School of Journalism
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-COLUMBIA *
THE HIGH-PRICED ANCHOR
The Lead Anchor's Contract Is Up. Renew It?
It was July 1, and Ron Bergen, WOLM-TV's 52-year-old lead
anchorperson, had three major problems: His name was similar to Ron
Burgandy, the silly, conceited, pompous character in the movie "Anchorman:
the Legend of Ron Burgandy," he looked a little bit like Will Ferrell's
fictional anchorman, to the delight of newsroom comedians and to Ron's disgust,
and his five-year contract was up for renewal at the end of the year. Ron's
agent was making no progress with the station in securing a reasonable
WOLM-TV was a NBC affiliate in the nation's twenty-fifth market. It
was in third place in the overall ratings and virtually tied with the CBS
affiliate for second place in news ratings. For years, WOLM-TV had been
the ratings leader in early and late news, although the ABC- and
CBS-affiliated stations had beaten WOLM-TV in the desirable younger demos
for several years. WOLM-TV's news ratings had declined in the past
year along with the decline in NBC's prime time ratings. Also, there had
been a decline in the lead-in and lead-out ratings of syndicated
programming surrounding the 6:00 p.m. newscast, which traditionally had
been WOLM-TV's and the market's highest-rated newscast.
WOLM-TV was owned by a locally headquartered company that controlled
a small group of smaller market television stations. The ABC and CBS
affiliates were owned by major, well-financed station groups, and the Fox
affiliate, which did little in the way of news, was owned by an
aggressive, well-managed station group. The Fox affiliate, in fact, had
drawn to a virtual tie in prime time ratings with WOLM-TV, and beat the
NBC affiliate in the demos.
On Wednesday, July 6, Harry Jones, WOLM-TV's general manager and
Linda Evans, the station's news director, had lunch to discuss renewing
Ron Bergen's contract.
"Harry, what do you want to do with Ron's contract?," Linda
began the discussion.
"No, what do you want to do with Ron's deal? It's your call," Harry
"He's asking way too much--$250,000 for ten years with salary
escalators. No way," Linda said adamantly.
"I agree it's too much. He's making $180,000 now on a five-year deal.
But that's his agent's opening shot. Ron will take less money because I
think he really wants a longer-term deal. But the primary question is, do
you want Ron--at any price?," asked Harry.
Linda and Harry continued the discussion, going back and forth on the
value of Ron to the station. Harry felt that Ron had developed a franchise
in the market. All of the research showed that Ron was the most
recognizable news personality in the market, slightly ahead of a
weatherman on another station. Because of his high recognition and strong
reputation, Harry felt the station should try to keep Ron.
Linda, on the other hand, was much more negative about Ron's value.
Linda felt Ron was too old, and looked and was perceived to be even older than he was.
Therefore, she certainly did not want to give him a long-term contract--no
longer than three years, at most five if he took less money for a longer
contract. She felt that Ron was difficult to work with and that he was a
typically ego-centered anchor who did little for the station unless he
felt it benefited him and his image. He was particularly uncooperative on
doing promotions and community-service projects. He did not interact
especially well with his younger female African-American co-anchor that
the station recently hired in an attempt to project a more youthful,
ethnic look. Linda also felt for sure that Ron had nowhere else to go--
that the other stations would not be interested in Ron because of his age
and stodgy image.
"OK," said Harry, "what's the bottom line; what do you want me to
While the incidents in this case are not factual, they do represent a
composite of actual events and situations that typically occur in local
television stations. This case was prepared to use as a teaching tool.
1. You are Linda Evans. How are you going to respond to Harry?
2. Do you want Ron to return to the station?
3. Who are you going to recommend do the negotiating?
4. If you want Ron to return, what type of deal are you going to
recommend offering to him? Be specific about how you will
structure the contract conditions and salary.
5. What is your walk-away position?
* This case was prepared by Charles Warner.
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