No more 'Mistake on the Lake'

The door to the Cleveland Indians' dugout may have largely closed for broadcast TV, but WUAB(TV)—yanked from the Indians' lineup this year—sees another door opening.

The much-loved tribe took almost all its games to cable this year, to Fox Sports Net Ohio. The handful on free broadcast will be aired nationally and shown locally on Fox affiliate WJW(TV), not on WUAB, the team's longtime home.

But Linda Nichols, general sales manager for WUAB and CBS affil WOIO(TV), sees an opportunity for WUAB to aim at the younger demographic with its UPN lineup. Given the expense of covering the games, she says, "we're not really losing any money."

Cleveland unquestionably still has its share—and maybe more—of problems, but its remarkable revitalization has reshaped its image from "The Mistake on the Lake" to "The Comeback City." In recent years, the city has built new sports facilities, housing and hotels, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which, to local chagrin, holds its inductions in New York or Los Angeles) to boost it as a tourist destination. Hometown comic-made-good Drew Carey reminds ABC viewers weekly that "Cleveland Rocks!"

Local Fox GM Mike Renda says the renewal has sparked a parochialism on which he has tried to capitalize. "We have tried to develop local news folks that have come from here. That's our signature." Local-news bragging rights are spread out: NBC affil WKYC-TV wins at 11 p.m. ET, WEWS(TV) takes early evening, and WJW's numbers in mornings and at 10 p.m. make it one of Fox's top performers nationally. The Fox-owned station—a CBS affil a decade ago—is the market's top grosser, according to BIA Financial.

As in many markets, ad revenue dropped in double-digit percentages from 2000 to 2001 and isn't expected to pass its record 2000 numbers until 2004, according to BIA. But local execs say 2002 already looks far better than last year, citing strength in automotive, health care and financial.