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On local TV, a blitz of Patriots coverage

Stations scramble to be the fans' choice

Email|Print| Text size + By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / January 19, 2008

When Valerie Dennehy of Kingston thinks of the Patriots, she thinks of WCVB-TV (Channel 5). "It's the official station of the Patriots," she says.

Gayle Burtley of Cambridge believes that title belongs to WHDH-TV (Channel 7). "They have Larry Ridley," she says.

According to the Pats, they're both wrong: WBZ-TV (Channel 4) is "the official New England Patriots Playoff Station."

With Tom Brady and company breaking records on the field and in the ratings, Boston stations are feeding their hungry viewers wall-to-wall football coverage. Teasing declarations leap off their screens: "Patriots Playoffs," "Patriots Nation Station," "Patriots All Access." Viewers may wonder: What do the titles really mean, and why do some stations carry exclusive Pats coverage?

The answer: Some pay the team for access and bragging rights.

"We are not going to stop until we are on every channel 24-7," jokes Patriots spokesman Stacey James. "We have had a very good relationship with the stations who cover us, and there is a lot of opportunity for programming and to do things that are special and exclusive."

WBZ, which airs the playoffs through its network parent, CBS, bought the rights last week to bill itself as "the official Patriots Playoff Station." The status gives WBZ and sister station WSBK-TV (Channel 38) exclusive interviews with players and coaches, access to team events and locations beyond what other Boston news organizations get during the postseason. The station had been airing a pregame show and live postgame coverage with press conferences, "New England Patriots 5th Quarter" and will continue to do so.

"We get preferential treatment," says Ed Piette, general manager at WBZ and WSBK. Under the agreement, WBZ and the Pats also sell advertising and sponsorship packages for exclusive Patriots programming and then share the revenue. Piette wouldn't specify the cost, but industry observers say that such arrangements can cost a station $250,000 to several hundred thousand dollars.

Piette added: "Everyone covers the Patriots, and there will be certain claims put forward."

He may be referring to WHDH, billing itself "the Patriots Nation Station" until a few weeks ago. The station, which doesn't have an official partnership with the team, stopped airing that slogan when WBZ partnered up with the Patriots. WHDH does have an informal relationship that goes beyond its sports special "Seven on the Sidelines." This season the station launched a weekly feature called "Huddle at Home," which takes viewers into the homes of players such as Randy Moss. Kirsten Watson, wife of Pats player Ben Watson, hosts the segment.

Randi Goldklank, WHDH's general manager and vice president, says that every station has a relationship with the Patriots. "We do feel that we do more coverage than anyone else," she said. To back that, she plans to send co-anchor Frances Rivera, sports anchor Joe Amorosino, and a 13-member reporting team to Arizona to cover the Super Bowl - only if the Patriots advance tomorrow.

WBZ won't be the only station with unique Patriots programming. For the past 10 years, WCVB has aired "Patriots All Access" hosted by Mike Lynch. The one-hour show, produced by Kraft Sports Productions with WCVB, features Lynch chatting with coach Bill Belichick.

WCVB had called itself "the official television station of the New England Patriots and their Super Bowl activities" in recent years, but WBZ bought those rights this year. (The Patriots also approached other Boston stations about partnerships.) WCVB retained its "All Access" program, popular among Pats fans. The show - which is usually taped on Wednesdays at Gillette Stadium and aired on Saturdays - will be carried live today.

"We are pulling all the stops out for this week, for the live show for the AFC championship," says Bill Fine, WCVB's president and general manager.

WFXT-TV (Channel 25) doesn't have a contract with the Pats, but the station will carry Fox's broadcast of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. NECN doesn't have an official partnership with the Patriots either but airs "Patriots Football Weekly" at 11 p.m. Tuesdays during the season. The show is produced by NECN and features writers from the team's official newspaper.

"We are the only station that offers a 30-minute sports show every night of the week and during football season, the majority of it devoted to the Patriots," said NECN spokeswoman Doreen Vigue. "While we don't have an official or exclusive deal with the team, we do feel we cover the Patriots incredibly well."

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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