KCTV5 to outsource its sports
November 7, 2003
As reported on GATEWAY CITY RADIO Message Board early in the week Time Warner Cable of Kansas City and KCTV, Channel 5, are close to signing an unprecedented agreement that would replace KCTV's sports department with Time Warner's Metro Sports.
Channel 5 would continue to air a sports segment during its evening newscasts. However, instead of originating from the KCTV studios in Fairway, the sports would be piped in over a fiber-optic line from the Metro Sports studios, near Swope Park.
The plan calls for KCTV to eliminate its three-person sports department — lead anchor William Jackson, Leif Lisec and Neal Jones. Metro Sports would choose an anchor who would replace Jackson on Channel 5's newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m. Jackson hinted Thursday that he would probably leave the market. Metro Sports has asked for permission to talk to Lisec.
The agreement, which is awaiting approval at Time Warner Cable's East Coast corporate offices, tentatively takes effect Feb. 2, 2004 — the day after Super Bowl XXXVIII. Metro Sports would produce all of KCTV's sports programming, including Chiefs shows, sports specials and live coverage of breaking sports news.
“We want to put a better sports product on the air than we do now, and that's not a knock on our guys,” KCTV general manager Kirk Black said. “They have done a great job for us. But we have three people in this building who do sports. They have 60.”
Metro Sports, airing on Time Warner Cable and Comcast Cable, employs 35 full-time and 25 part-time employees. It is wholly owned by Kansas City Cable Partners, a joint venture of Time Warner and Comcast. The deal calls for Metro Sports' logo to appear on KCTV's air. The two stations would co-promote their sports coverage.
The idea of outsourcing Channel 5 sports was first floated more than a year ago by Black during informal conversations with Time Warner senior vice president Carol Rothwell.
“We see this as a win-win,” Rothwell said. “We think it's a first in the industry.”
Time Warner, the country's second-largest cable operator, will be watching the Kansas City experiment closely to see whether it can be duplicated in other markets in which it owns large systems, such as upstate New York and Houston.
The move could also send ripples through the broadcast news industry. Many TV stations outsource traffic reports, but this is the first known instance of a TV station affiliated with a major network in a major-league sports town farming out its sports coverage. Black acknowledged that it will save his station “some” money, but he emphasized that his main objective was allowing the newsroom to concentrate on news while “taking our sports coverage to another level.”
That was disputed by Wade Baughman, chief negotiator for the union that represents employees in the Channel 5 newsroom.
“The station indicated to me that this was motivated by economic considerations,” said Baughman, who learned of the potential alliance during contract negotiations in July.
The two sides also disagree about the legal definition of the Metro Sports deal. Baughman maintains that Channel 5 is subcontracting jobs to a non-union content provider, which would require union approval. KCTV, however, says it is merely eliminating content, which management can do without a signoff from the union. The issue could wind up in front of a federal arbitrator, with the union seeking higher severance pay for the three terminated employees.
Jackson, who has been KCTV's lead sports anchor since his arrival in 1994, had been working without a contract since August. He said he was sorry to be leaving the station but was looking forward to his next opportunity, most likely in another city.
“I always keep it positive,” Jackson said Thursday. “With what I've been able to do here, with the Chiefs and everything, I'm confident in my ability to move on to bigger and better things.”
Rothwell said that if the deal with KCTV is signed, Metro Sports will be adding more personnel.