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Michael Jordan's retirement from the NBA "will have sizable ramifications for the league, NBC and cable partner Turner," according to USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke. The timing of Jordan's retirement "could not have come at a more inopportune time," as league officials "hoped" Jordan's participation "could soften fans' bitterness" over the six- month NBA lockout. Nielsen ratings for Bulls games have rated 71% higher than other NBA telecasts. Media buyer Paul Schulman: "The NBA's ratings will be down 10%, a huge hit. They've not only lost Jordan but (also) the Chicago Bulls as their biggest draws." Grey Advertising's Jon Mandel: "The worst job in the business now is (NBC Sports President of Sales) Keith Turner's. How do you sell a 3 rating for $100,000 (a commercial)?" But Martzke writes that NBA ratings on NBC "don't figure to dip as low" as 3.0 after last year's 4.8 (USA TODAY, 1/13). NBC Sports Chair Dick Ebersol said he will be "surprised" if the Bulls are on NBC more than 5 or six times, "none of them nationally" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/13). Ebersol: "While no single player can replace the transcendent athlete of this decade, it will be exciting to see what players and what 'super teams' step into the stoplight for the fans to embrace" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13). DAILY VARIETY's John Dempsey writes that NBC and Turner "could suffer dramatic erosion in viewership." A source said "the only way" the two networks could "approximate" last year's ratings is if free agents Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman re-sign with the Bulls (VARIETY, 1/13). MONEY MAN: In Toronto, Bulls games on TSN were "double the average" of other NBA games, and Game 6 of last season's NBA Eastern Conference Finals gave CTV a "record" 1 million viewers. CTV Sports VP Scott Moore, on Jordan: "He's helped make us a lot of money over the years" (TORONTO STAR, 1/13).
ESPN unveiled plans for its "SportsCentury" program yesterday in N.Y., including its list of the 51-100 greatest North American athletes of the past century. The top 50 will be counted down through weekly "SportsCentury" programs, airing on Fridays, beginning January 22 at 8:00pm ET, with a special hour-long culmination episode on the top two athletes airing on ABC December 26 (ESPN). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand calls it ESPN's "biggest project ever." The program will consist of 60 hours of footage and draw on about 1,000 interviews, 150,000 photos, "and rarely seen old footage." Hiestand adds that ESPN will "send its own announcers into the past" as some "SportsCenter" anchors will "temporarily" alter their on-air look to "suggest" how "SportsCenter" might have looked (USA TODAY, 1/13).
In N.Y., WWOR-XX's Russ Salzberg was "forced" to cut short an interview with Mike Tyson when Tyson "launched into a series of X-rated answers that had to be bleeped out." When asked why he insisted on swearing, Tyson told Salzberg, "I'm talking to you the way I want to talk to you." Tyson then cursed Salzberg for ending the interview (N.Y. POST, 1/13)....In Toronto, Josh Rubin writes that NBA.com "will be coming under increased scrutiny" as a bridge to bring fans back after the lockout. The site plans to offer more stat categories and an expanded history section. NBA.com Dir Stefanie Scheer says there are no plans to make online radio coverage of NBA games available for free. But there are plans to make a free game accessible every night, while last year there were three free games a week (TOR. STAR, 1/13). ...Sport Magazine said it has increased its rate base 33% to 1 million for the first quarter of '99. New advertisers in the title are Absolut, Gillete, And 1, Reebok, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix (Sport).
In England, the Office of Fair Trading Dir General John Bridgeman is "insisting" that Premier League soccer teams negotiate TV deals individually rather than collectively as a league, according to John Mason of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The Premiere League, along with the BBC and Sky TV, are opposing any changes to the regulations and has taken the issue before the Restrictive Practices Court. The league, whose teams receive US$1.2B from the BBC and Sky for TV rights, argue that the rule would "damage the commercial prospects of all but the top football clubs" and would put broadcasting companies in "an unacceptably powerful position." The OFT believes the rule would "give more broadcasters" the right to "buy soccer rights and increase consumer choice" with more soccer on TV. The hearing is expected to last about three months (FINANCIAL TIMES, 1/13)