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NBA COVERAGE/RATINGS: NBC's overnight ratings for Game Two of the NBA Finals was a 17.7, up 7% from last year. In Chicago, Michael Hirsley writes that the national rating "should be the second-highest NBA Finals Game 2 rating, and could surpass the current highest, Bulls-Lakers Game 2 in 1991" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/8)....In Salt Lake, John Youngren wrote that NBC's Isiah Thomas "all but disappeared during the crucial fourth quarter of Game 2 -- deferring to NBC colleague Doug Collins." But "overall, NBC offered an objective and dramatic look at the Jazz and Bulls" for Friday's game (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 6/6)....NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol predicts that a Michael Jordan-less NBA on NBC would see little decline in its regular-season ratings "because it makes the regular season, in many ways, more competitive." Ebersol: "The Finals, obviously, it will have an impact. Michael, probably more than any athlete in any sport, is a draw for the casual fan" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 6/8)....For more on select weekend ratings, see (#27). BELMONT REVIEWS: ABC's Belmont telecast earned a 6.5/17 rating, up 5% from last year's 6.2/16 (THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke gives ABC's Belmont Stakes coverage an "A-" (USA TODAY, 6/8)....On Long Island, Steve Zipay writes that ABC "handled the wild finish and post-race questions with aplomb" (NEWSDAY, 6/7)....But in Houston, David Barron writes, "ABC, to be kind, struggled Saturday" and noted Lesley Visser's microphone going out in a post-race interview with trainer Bob Baffert (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/8). For more on the Belmont Stakes, see (#21). NOTES: USA TODAY's Lieberman & Wells report that WB and Fox "appear to be the big winners as the advertising sales rush for television's upcoming prime-time season wraps up." Ad rates are up "at least" 12% at the WB and about 8% at Fox. Meanwhile, Grey Advertising's Jon Mandel said, "The whole sports market is squishy right now" (USA TODAY, 6/8). ...In Miami, Barry Diller's WAMI-TV, which will broadcast 40 Heat games next season, switches formats today, from Home Shopping Network to news, talk and entertainment. WAMI will air a live, 30-minute weeknight sports show called "Sportstown" at 10:00pm and plans other sports programming as well (MIAMI HERALD, 6/7). BUSINESS WEEK notes the re- launch of Diller's WAMI and notes that when viewers watch Heat games Diller also "intends to pitch them team merchandise." Other possible deals for Diller "could include one" with the NBA to run its new league store in New York City, which "could lead" to NBA product sales over his shopping channels, as well (BUSINESS WEEK, 6/15 issue).
Fox's spring affiliates meeting "adjourned Friday with no deal in place for the affiliates to help shoulder the cost" of Fox's new $4.4B NFL package, according to Jenny Hontz of DAILY VARIETY. The "main stumbling block is Fox's unwillingness to link discussions about network programming exclusivity to talks over financing the NFL package." Affils "want assurances they'll get NFL and other programming exclusively for both analog and digital TV broadcasts." Another "sticking point" is that Fox wants a one-year deal, while the affils "want a longer, more iron- clad agreement covering the entire length of the NFL contract." Meanwhile, Fox TV Chair & CEO Chase Carey told affils that total sports rights fees will approach $1B in annual expense, an increase of more than 50% over the current year. Despite the cost, Hontz writes that Carey "picked on NBC for letting football go away because they said the economics didn't justify it." Carey: "When all is said and done, that will go down as one of the defining moments of recent network history" (DAILY VARIETY, 6/8). STILL A JUGGERNAUT: CNBC's Don Dahler reported on ESPN's ratings dip, and possible lowered earnings expectations on Wall Street for Disney. Jeffrey Logsdon of Cruttenden Roth: "If you're lowering your numbers on Disney, and you're using ESPN as kind of a flag to raise, you're probably throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Dahler: "ESPN is like Michael Jordan -- still a long way ahead of the pack, even though they may have lost a step or two." ESPN is still the 7th highest rated cable network, and 5th highest in the 18-49 demographic ("The Edge," CNBC, 6/5).