Dallas Cowboys Ranked `Best Buy' For Spectators; Tuning In Local Sports

DETERMINING the best spectator buy in professional team sports can never be an exact science, but Money magazine has brought some method to such madness. In rating 83 teams in football, baseball, and basketball, it declared football's Dallas Cowboys the best buy and basketball's New York Knicks the worst.

The publication solicited input from fans and sportswriters in three areas: ticket, parking, and concession prices; stadium comfort and transportation access; and attractiveness of the team, based on percentage of games won, percentage of close games, and presence of star players. The magazine awarded bonus points for a sport's popularity: Forty-four percent of those polled were most interested in football, 27 percent in baseball, and 18 percent in basketball.

The Knicks, not surprisingly, were hurt in the rankings by the high cost of playing in mid-Manhattan. Attending Cowboys games is not cheap, but the team scored heavily with a superior stadium, a Super Bowl team, and star power in the form of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.

Completing the top five sports bargains were football's Green Bay Packers, followed by baseball's San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Astros.

Televised high school games are worth a look

CHECK the local listings: High school sports are on the local cable channel in many communities. A reminder of this occurred the other week at a Wellesley High School boys' soccer game in suburban Boston. The guy who looked like a casual spectator in the nearly empty bleachers was wired and calling the play-by-play. A video cameraman captured the action from atop a scaffold tower.

Later that week, this writer caught the final minutes of a Needham (Mass.) Cablevision telecast of a Needham-Dedham high school football game. It was simple but not unsophisticated coverage of a low-fanfare game. The announcers were knowledgeable, the camera angles varied, and the replays perfectly adequate. All in all, it was an enjoyable viewing experience, one I recommend that others sample in their communities.

ESPN puts viewers at the wheel

IN 1970, driving great Mario Andretti, who retired in October, tried to explain the experience of driving a high-speed race car in his autobiography, ``What It's Like Out There.'' Television technology has come a long way since then, practically eliminating the need for verbal descriptions.

A prime example of state-of-the-art auto-racing coverage occurred at September's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, an IndyCar event in Andretti's hometown of Nazareth, Pa. While ESPN offered a traditional, bird's-eye view of the action, ESPN2 provided a mix of pictures taken from different car-mounted miniature cameras. By channel-surfing between ESPN and ESPN2, a viewer could switch from watching the race with commentary, to being in it, with mostly engine sound. Expect to see more two-pronged coverage.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: With a paid circulation of almost 3.5 million, Sports Illustrated is by far the most popular American sports magazine. But which publication is in second place? (Answer below.)

* What makes baseball different from other sports? In ``Baseball,'' the recent PBS megaseries, several distinguishing features were cited: the absence of a time clock, possession of the ball by the defensive team, and scoring by players (sans ball). In the series's finale, this last fact dovetailed with another observation: When players run home to score, they are returning to an object - home plate - that resembles a simply drawn house. The symbolism, while probably unintentional, is nonetheless striking.

* Quiz answer: Field & Stream (2 million circulation).

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