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The addition of NFL Sunday Night Football has helped ESPN's primetime ratings jump 56%, from a 1.8 to a 2.8 for the first two weeks of September. For the same period, ESPN's NFL telecasts, along with its sports news shows, have boosted the net's 24-hour rating 50%, from a 0.8 to a 1.2. The 11:00pm ET edition of "SportsCenter" has earned a 64% rating increase (1.1 to 1.8), and the Sunday 11:00pm show is up 107% (1.5 to 3.1). ESPN's Sunday NFL highlights/recap show, "NFL PrimeTime," is up 27% (3.3 to 4.2). The net's college football ratings are up 20% (ESPN). "SportsCenter" averaged 1,341,000 viewers for the first two weeks of the month, up from 819,000 a year ago (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/17). RELAUNCH A HIT: ESPN.com registered a record 11.4 million page views on Sunday. The site recorded 94.3 million hits -- a 486% increase over the second NFL Sunday of the '97 season, when it drew 16.1 million (ESPN.com). SWEET DEAL: Sugar Ray Leonard has signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN Classic to provide analysis of his own and other "classic" bouts, many from the "Big Fights Library." Leonard will make his debut November 12 (ESPN).
The official U.S. Open Web site, www.usopen.org, created and co-produced by the USTA and IBM, recorded 382 million hits and 242 million page views during the two-week tournament. The traffic totals surpassed the marks set at this year's French Open and Wimbledon sites, also powered by IBM. The site recorded more page views in the first two days of the Open than it did for the entire '97 tournament. Users from 157 countries visited the site, and nearly 60% of all visitors were from the U.S. The peak number of hits came on September 8, at 44.7 million, while peak page views came on September 2, at 29.2 million. Total visits were 10.3 million, peaking on September 8 at 1.3 million. IBM and the USTA have renewed their partnership through 2001 (USTA).
NBC CUTS? NBC "insiders" are "predicting job losses of between 200 and 300" as "across-the-board cuts are expected to average between 4% and 5%, with some divisions and departments -- particularly those not directly related to programming -- likely to take a larger hit." NBC Sports "may have to trim 8% of its budget, in part because of the absence of" the NFL (Josef Adalian, DAILY VARIETY, 9/17). TV: TNT's announcing line-up for its "Title Night" boxing debut September 22 will feature play-by-play man Kevin Harlan, analysts Evander Holyfield and Sugar Ray Leonard, ringside reporter Craig Sager and scoring judge Julie Lederman (Turner Sports)....The second game of Tuesday's Pirates-Cards doubleheader posted a 12.7 HH rating for Fox Sports Midwest, becoming the highest-rated program in FSM history (FSM)....CNN/SI will air the '95 Oscar- nominated documentary "Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream," tomorrow night at 9:00pm ET (CNN/SI)....The CBC will air "The New Ice Age -- A Year In The Life Of The NHL," a five- part documentary series, from September 29 to October 3. Co-Producer Joseph Blasioli said the filmmakers were given "unprecedented access" to the league for one full year, compiling over 500 hours of footage. The series is only available in Canada and U.S. border cities, but plans "are in the works" to make it available for sale on video (THE HOCKEY NEWS, 9/18 issue)....DirecTV is "expected to announce today" that it has hit the 4 million subscriber mark, which would put it "far ahead" of rivals Primestar (2.1 million) and Echostar (1.5 million). DirecTV passed the 3 million mark last November (DAILY VARIETY, 9/17).
After "striking a deal" with the Maple Leafs and Molson Breweries, TSN announced details of its six-year deal to broadcast the team's games in Ontario, according to Chris Zelkovich of the TORONTO STAR. Molson owns the team's broadcast rights. The deal, which will see TSN broadcast 31 Leafs games this season, is the net's second regional hockey package, as it will carry at least 20 Canadiens games in English, to be shown in Quebec and the Maritimes (TORONTO STAR, 9/17). In Toronto, Rob Longley puts the deal at "as much as" C$23M annually. The deal also calls for TSN to carry "a minimum of" 51 games next season (TOR. SUN, 9/17). NOTE: CT-based Imadgine will provide TSN in Canada with its virtual ad and replay system. TSN will use the technology across a variety of its programming, marking the first time it will be offered on Canadian TV (Imadgine).