SBD/4/Sports Media

PLAYOFF WATCH: NHL READY TO DROP PUCK ON CUP FINALS TONIGHT

     Officials from the NBA, NHL and respective network partners
say that they are pleased with the Finals match-ups.  As
NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay writes, "The NHL points to the growth of
two new markets.  The NBA has the Bulls' three stars preparing
for a coronation.  Ho hum" (NEWSDAY, 6/5).
     BETTMAN'S NOT BUYIN' IT:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told
the ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS:  "Might the ratings have been higher if
Detroit played New York or Chicago played New York or L.A. played
New York or Detroit or Chicago?  Maybe they'd be higher.  But I
think the ratings will be strong for this series.  We're already
up 30% for these playoffs on both Fox and ESPN."  Bettman said
the Finals hold some "compelling stories" and he called the
response in the two markets "gratifying because it tells us we
have an opportunity to grow the sport by getting it greater
exposure and taking it to new places" (Bob Kravitz, ROCKY
MOUNTAIN NEWS, 6/3).
     PUCKISH NUMBERS:  In Boston, Jack Craig writes, "If ratings
are the real test for television -- and they are -- neither Fox
nor ESPN can be pleased with Florida-Colorado."  Craig sees John
Vanbiesbrouck as "the closest thing to a superstar to attract
casual viewers" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/4).  Also in Boston, Jim Baker
reports Fox "has little hope" that ratings will top this year's
"better-but-still-low" 2.6 peak rating (BOSTON HERALD, 6/3).  USA
TODAY's Michael Hiestand likens Florida-Colorado to a "college
bowl matchup."  But he does note the assessment from Fox's Ed
Goren that the ratings rise has been "sensational" -- Fox's
playoff ratings are averaging a 2.4, up 26% from '95.  Still,
Hiestand notes, Fox's teen-oriented "In the Zone" MLB preview
show gained a 2.3 overnight last Saturday (USA TODAY, 6/4).
NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay notes the prime-time Game 1 could
"outperform" Fox's MLB debut -- which got a 3.8 overnight
(NEWSDAY, 6/4).  In DC, Tony Kornheiser wonders if there is a net
"large enough to catch all the Fox TV suits who are going to jump
off the roof. ... The only recognizable names on both teams are
the goalies, Roi and the Beezer; that sounds like a French
sitcom" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/4).
     TWO VIEWS:  In New York, Richard Sandomir writes, "Hockey is
in its ascendancy on television -- a phrase that could not have
been written without chortling five years ago."  But NBC's Marv
Albert says:  "They go from a 1.5 to a 2.5 and make a big deal
out of the percentages.  You can't make the comparison to the
NBA, which gets huge numbers.  I hope the NHL does better, but
there is a tendency by those who push them to distort the
numbers" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).
     ALL AGLOW:  Fox's Lou D'Ermilio reports that the FoxTrax
System will work in Colorado (William Houston, GLOBE & MAIL,
6/4).  There had been concern that the lighting at Denver's
McNichols Arena would not be conducive to use of the enhanced
puck system (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 6/3).
     FIRE, NOT ICE:  Fox had the option to show Game 4 of the
Panthers-Avalanche, but opted instead to air the second
installment of "L.A. Firefighters," a new hour-long drama series
that premiered last night (NEWSDAY, 6/4).
     "SWEEP" IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD:  In Philadelphia, Mike Bruton
notes of the NBA finals, "It's hard to imagine anything but a
Chicago sweep."  But NBC's Albert predicted there would be
"drama" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/4).
     NBA NUMBERS:  The Sonics-Jazz Game 7 on NBC Sunday gained a
13.7/24 in preliminary overnights, according to Nielsen Sports
Marketing Service.  Seattle showed a 33.9/68 (Salt Lake City is
not one of Nielsen's 33 metered markets).  Ratings and shares
from other top NBA markets:  Chicago  24.9/43; San Antonio
22.3/36, Portland 19.7/46, Phoenix 19.4/37, Houston 17.1/29,
Sacramento 16.8/32, Orlando 16.0/24, L.A. 15.2/33, San Francisco
14.1/35 (THE DAILY).
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