Browns to WOIO: Get Lost

We apologize for not being able to weigh in on this bombshell today, but it’s all anyone’s been talking about in local media.

The Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi started it all in this morning’s paper, with word that the Cleveland Browns have dumped Raycom Media CBS affiliate WOIO/19 as the local team rightsholder. Along with other official partnerships, the move takes the team’s pre-season games away from Channel 19 just a month before the first game was set to air.

Any regular follower of This Space, or any regular watcher of “19 Action News”, isn’t surprised about what happened. The station’s aggressive reporting style rubbed the team the wrong way once too often.

“19 Action News”, as reported here last year, came in with a swagger in the first year of the three year Browns contract…acting like they basically owned the Browns’ training camp in Berea, right down to swiping the team’s bottled water. And after a WOIO interview of Braylon Edwards last year, the team wasn’t happy.

But the final straw was the station’s decision to air some portions of the 911 emergency call tape concerning Browns owner Randy Lerner’s 6 year-old niece, who drowned in a tragic accident. That event apparently caused Lerner to unlaterally decide to dump the local “tabloid TV” outlet entirely…in the second year of a three year agreement reportedly costing Raycom Media some $2 million a year.

OMW hears that the team made a request to local media outlets for respect of the privacy of the Lerner family, including sister Nancy Fisher…who made the 911 call that aired on Channel 19. WOIO apparently aired parts of the call that other stations would not air.

It’s hard not to call this incident a case of TV karma coming back to bite Reserve Square in the… umm…television posterior. Channel 19 pushed the envelope a little too hard, and suddenly, they’re no longer “The Official Television Home of the Browns”.

The Browns’ decision means there’ll be a mad scramble for the local TV rights, including those lucrative pre-season games.

OMW would go to the betting window for ABC affiliate WEWS/5 to take over, for many reasons:

* NBC affiliate WKYC/3 is tied up with the Cleveland Indians and SportsTime Ohio, and likely couldn’t even consider doing anything.

* We haven’t heard any suggestion that FOX’s WJW/8 is interested, though they did reportedly showed an interest in the Indians’ over-air rights before WKYC came in.

* WEWS has already run two stories on the loss of the Browns’ over-air rights by competitor WOIO, including interviews with Browns ticket buyers who said they’d contact the team about getting a new preseason outlet, and quick.

The station would certainly appear to be making a play for that contract on the air, and appears to be setting itself up as the “knight in shining armor” here.

Not only that, Channel 5 is losing “Monday Night Football” this year to ESPN, with the over-air “Sunday Night Football” replacement over on WKYC with NBC. This would give them a huge jump back into the NFL.

WOIO is not out in the cold entirely, but there’s nothing the Browns can do about that. As the market’s CBS affiliate, Channel 19 will carry the vast majority of the team’s regular season games…since CBS is the network that covers the AFC, the NFL division containing the Browns.

But you can bet the folks in Berea will give the coldest of shoulders to the folks from Reserve Square this year…

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