SBJ/March 13 - 19, 2000/No Topic Name

NBC Sports predicts NBA ratings rebound

NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer said the network expected the dip that NBA ratings have taken this year, but he predicted that ratings will go up again — perhaps as early as next year — as new story lines and stars begin to emerge.

"I hope we will do well in the playoffs, and then next year our regular season will be up over this year," Schanzer said.

Schanzer called ad sales for NBA broadcasts in general and the NBA Finals in particular exceptional, despite the lower ratings. Schanzer declined to reveal sales numbers but said, "We are right on our targets in terms of sales."

NBA games on NBC so far this year have pulled a 3.7 ratings average, according to the latest available data, down 14 percent from last year's season average of 4.3.

Schanzer linked the decline to the retirement of Michael Jordan and last season's lockout.

"New stars are emerging, but it takes time for those new stars to get traction in the public consciousness," he said.

Barry Frank, a senior vice president at IMG who has negotiated several big sports television rights deals, said he agreed with Schanzer's assessment of the ratings. Although Frank said there could be a rebound in NBA ratings, he said he did not see it in the immediate future.

Along with the loss of Jordan and the lockout, Frank said NBA ratings also suffered from unexpectedly strong competition from PGA Tour events. Golf ratings soared recently when Tiger Woods went on a historic winning streak, he noted.

Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who now runs a sports television consulting firm, said mid-1990s NBA ratings were artificially high because of Jordan's incredible popularity.

"Now, all we are seeing is a return to the normal era," Pilson said.

Pilson added that it would be a mistake to try to increase ratings by propping up another player as the new Michael Jordan.

"I think the NBA and NBC are trying to create the next Michael Jordan in the person of Vince Carter," Pilson said. "I think the league is stronger than that. I don't think the league has to rise and fall on one star."

Schanzer said that the network has been careful not to crown any one player as the next Jordan. As far as Toronto's Carter goes, Schanzer said, "he could be pre-eminent, we don't know."

NBA ratings at TNT and TBS also are down, said Greg Hughes, vice president of public relations for Turner Sports. Games broadcast by Turner Sports so far this year, according to the latest available data, were averaging a 1.4 rating, down 18 percent, Hughes said.

Gregg Winik, NBA executive vice president of programming and NBA Entertainment executive producer, said another factor affecting ratings is the changing nature of television and increased competition from the Internet and other entertainment choices.

"It's a new world out there," Winik said. "No one sits down and watches three hours of a game like they used to."

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