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The ratings gap between the NBA on NBC and the NHL on Fox (last weekend's NBA games drew four times more viewers than the NHL) "proved again that hockey remains a regional sport, in spite of the optimism and clever promotion on the part of Fox," according to Jack Craig in this morning's BOSTON GLOBE. Craig writes that Fox is "up against a longtime theory, which holds that television can enhance interest everywhere but not originate it anywhere. ... For all of its legendary influence, TV has never taken up a mainline sport and lit a fire in regions in which there previously had been little or no interest." Based on Fox's first year with the NHL, Craig calls the net's $155M deal over five years a "bad bet" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31). ELECTION NIGHT: Because of the Ontario provincial election on June 8, the CBC cannot broadcast Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference finals. TSN has offered to carry the game in Ontario (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/31). Sources say CBC is trying to find other ways to keep the Ontario market, including appealing to local community cable channels to carry the game (Rob Longley, TORONTO SUN, 5/31). BY-THE-NUMBERS: The NBA's games this weekend averaged an 8.6 rating, up 16% from last year -- including a 9.5 for Indiana- Orlando on Memorial Day. According to Richard Sandomir, NBC enters its prime time telecasts knowing that having lost teams from the top media markets "is not a death knell for ratings" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/31). In Baltimore, Milton Kent writes, "Let's finally put to rest any notion that the uptick in NBA ratings is solely Michael Jordan-driven (Baltimore SUN, 5/31). Overnights for Fox's Devils-Penguins game on Sunday slipped to "a low" of 1.9. While ESPN's NHL ratings are down 10% from '94, ESPN's Tom Mees believes they will go up now that local blackouts are lifted for the conference finals (Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 5/31). The Indy 500 averaged an 8.6/26 in overnights -- a 1% gain over the 8.5/26 it got in '94 (AD AGE ONLINE, 5/31).
Rupert Murdoch told Canada's FINANCIAL POST that News Corp. has decided against bidding for the worldwide TV rights to the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, because it is "too complicated." However, he remains "very interested" in the U.S. TV rights (FINANCIAL POST, 5/31)....ESPN has announced an agreement with the Atlantic 10 to provide ESPN with national cable exclusivity to the conference's men's basketball telecasts. ESPN will air a Saturday afternoon game-of-the-week, select interconference games and the A-10 championship; ESPN2 will air a Monday night game-of- the-week, three tournament quarterfinals and the women's championship game (ESPN)....Bob Gordon, GM of Boston's Channel 68, denied reports that his station was not interested in bidding on the Red Sox when WSBK's contract expires at the end of this year (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31)....Cox Enterprises, owner of Tampa's WSUN-AM, has entered into a partnership with rival WFNS-AM to jointly carry Lightning games next season. Lightning spokesperson Gerry Helper: "Anything that increases the reach and availability of our games in the marketplace is something we welcome (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 5/31)....Sports Media Inc., publisher of Pro Sports Team Yearbooks, has announced the renewal of its Bulls contract, the addition of the S.F. Giants, and marketing agreements with AmEx and Midwest Air (Sports Media)....CBS affiliates hold their annual meeting this week in L.A., with Ralph Gabbard, Chair of the CBS Affiliates Advisory Board, airing comments critical of CBS Chair Laurence Tisch in advance of the sessions (N.Y. POST, 5/31).
Microsoft's exclusive online service agreement with NBC, signed earlier this month, launched "the first volley in what promises to be a ferocious battle over one of the hottest growth industries in the country," according to Julie Pitta in today's L.A. TIMES. The Microsoft Network (MSN) "poses a mortal threat" to the so-called "Big Three" -- Prodigy, America Online and Compuserve. But they "do not intend to go down without a fight." In addition to improving their own software and connections to the Web, the existing commercial online services are pushing the Justice Department to look into MSN, as Justice did with Microsoft's Intuit deal (L.A. TIMES, 5/31). With MSN and AT&T's Interchange due this summer, the Big Three are readying ad campaigns. Cliff Freeman, whose agency handles Prodigy: "The on-line service wars in the '90s will be what the fast-food, soft-drink and sneaker battles were in the '70s and '80s" (Melanie Wells, USA TODAY, 5/31). ONLINE NEWS & NOTES: The USGA will offer results and information from the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Women's Open on the internet. UNISYS will be responsible for transferring info to the Web for the USGA. Address: http://www.unisys.com (USGA)....Compuserve expects to double its European subscribers by the end of FY '96 and open a European HQs next fall (REUTERS, 5/30)....In S.F., columnist C.W. Nevius reviews the sports options online and reports, "As usual, ESPN is leading the pack" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/31).