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An NCAA men's basketball tournament of "buzzer-beaters, upsets and feel-good stories" has helped CBS to its highest ratings for the event in four years, according to the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Through Sunday's regional finals, CBS's NCAA men's coverage averaged a 6.2/13, 1% higher than last year's 6.1/14 and the "best since" '94's 6.6/15. Three of last weekend's games "posted gains" from the previous year. Saturday's UConn-UNC game earned an 8.2, up 9% from '97, while Sunday's Stanford-URI received a 6.4, up 5%, and Duke- Kentucky recorded a 9.9, up 11%. The Duke-Kentucky game was the "highest rated regional final since" Michigan-Arkansas got a 10.1 in '94 (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 3/24). In Dallas, Richard Alm notes that, due to the viewer demos for the tournament, CBS "isn't complaining about the" $213M rights fee it is paying for '98. The average tourney watchers have incomes 30% higher than the national average, and 70% own their own homes. Also, 40% of the audience are women, "high for sports events." CBS Sports VP/Programming Mike Aresco: "Young, college-educated men are a very hard to reach demographic segment. And this, by far, is the best vehicle to reach them" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24). CBS NOTES: In N.Y., Bob Raissman calls CBS's production on Duke-KY "first-rate," and adds "so was the call of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer" (N.Y DAILY NEWS, 3/24). Also in N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes on Packer: "If the full measure of an analyst is whether a viewer learns something ... Packer gets high marks" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). But in Boston, Howard Manly writes that the presence of ex-coaches Al McGuire and Dean Smith in the net's lineup "may be good for name recognition but lousy for insightful analysis. Neither criticizes his coaching brethren" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/24). Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley will join CBS on this weekend's coverage of the men's Final Four (CBS).
TV/VIDEO: Evander Holyfield will defend his WBA heavyweight title against Henry Akinwande on June 6 at MSG. Showtime will handle PPV distribution for the fight (N.Y DAILY NEWS, 3/24)....BROADCASTING & CABLE's John Higgins writes that Cablevision Chair Charles Dolan's interest in buying the Yankees may stem from SportsChannel's experience in Philadelphia, where Comcast took control of the 76ers and Flyers and launched Comcast SportsNet. One media exec: "Chuck learned his lesson in Philadelphia" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 3/23)....After CBS "failed to offer" Marcus Allen the job he sought with the network, Allen will return to the Chiefs for the final year of his contract (K.C. STAR, 3/24). PUBLISHING: In Akron, Michael Weinreb reviews ESPN Magazine, calling it SI "for slackers." Weinreb: "What I want from a sports magazine is simple: Compelling writing, great photography. The Magazine has that. Now I wish they would cool it with the inside jokes" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 3/24)....The Sporting News' VP/Sales Jay Burzon told AD AGE's James Brady that after TSN's December relaunch, ad pages are up 89% in January (AD AGE, 3/23 issue).
In its ongoing effort to "expand globally," the NFL has inked "several" new TV-rights deals overseas, signed new sponsors for its NFL Europe League (NFLE), and set "new" int'l TV programming plans for the '98-99 season, according to Langdon Brockinton of MEDIAWEEK. German net SAT.1 has become an NFL TV partner, and will televise a season preview show, the '99 Super Bowl, and a weekly NFLE highlights show. In the U.S., NFLE gets weekly coverage on FSN and DirecTV, with the Fox network carrying NFLE's June 14 title game. Puma, Nabisco and Monsanto have reportedly bought ad time on FSN's NFLE coverage, and "some" official NFL sponsors will "likely get inventory" on FSN "as part of their packages." NFLE also has new TV deals with Spain's TV3, Holland's Veronica and FSWo. NFLE has signed a two-year sponsorship with German footwear company Deichmann, and Kellogg and Ericsson have signed teams sponsorships with the London Monarchs and Rhein Fire, respectively. In other news, NFL Int'l (NFLI) will intro new NFL Films-produced programs for overseas airing next season, including "Rules of the Game," a series of 30-second "vignettes explaining the basics of pro football." NFLI will also make "several" prime-time specials available internationally (MEDIAWEEK, 3/23).