SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Media

Turner targets NBA limit

Turner Sports and the NBA won’t begin negotiating a new television deal until this spring, but battle lines already are being drawn.

No matter how much promotion Turner throws at TNT’s exclusive Thursday night broadcasts, it is the matchups that drive NBA ratings. That’s why Turner is expected to demand the rights to broadcast more games of any one team when both sides begin talking on a new deal after the regular season ends in April.

Turner is now allowed to broadcast a maximum of nine games of any one team, and the network gets the national exclusive broadcast rights to six of those nine games. Teams can broadcast Thursday games locally if they have appeared more than six times on Turner, creating side-by-side NBA programming in their markets.

That’s not enough for Turner, which is in the third year of a six-year agreement that pays the NBA $365 million annually for the exclusive rights to Thursday night broadcasts. Turner recently announced that it was increasing its minority stake in NBA TV, a sign of a growing business relationship between the league and the network that dates back to 1984 when Turner began airing NBA games.

The NBA, mindful that its teams don’t want to give up an abundance of local broadcasts to Turner, is expected to balk at Turner’s request.

“It’s a sensitive issue for teams,” said Adam Silver, president of NBA Entertainment.

“The NBA wants to protect its local broadcasts of teams,” said Turner Sports President David Levy, “but I’d like flexibility.”

The issue is of greater concern for top NBA teams that already have high national profiles and generate strong local ratings, resulting in lucrative local broadcast revenue. For example, the NBA champion Detroit Pistons have seen ratings increase 9 percent this season on Fox Sports Detroit and 35 percent on its over-the-air carrier WDIV. Each Turner exclusive Pistons broadcast cost the team between $100,000 and $300,000 in local broadcast ad revenue, said Pistons President Tom Wilson.

“It’s a big price to pay and we all mumble and grumble, but it is like revenue sharing,” he said. “There are some years when we aren’t on [Turner] that much and then the national deal helps us.”

For nonexclusive nights when Turner and local carriers have side-by-side broadcasts, local ratings drop 40 percent, Wilson said.

“Ratings deteriorate and for teams using ratings to sell, it comes at cost,” he said.

In the 2002-03 season, the first of the current six-year deal on Turner, the NBA generated a 1.2 regular-season rating, followed by a 1.4 rating last season. So far this season, the NBA is tracking to a 1.3 rating on Turner.

Levy also said that when the two sides begin talking, he will push for more starting times of 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern time for Thursday night doubleheader broadcasts. It’s a time slot that brings the highest ratings on TNT.

Last year, TNT had 30 games in the Thursday night 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. start times. This season, TNT has 40 games in the more favorable 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. starts and will push for the right for more scheduling flexibility.

The network also wants to get away from its early week broadcasts. This season, TNT will have just three games on Monday and Tuesday nights compared to seven Monday and Tuesday broadcasts last season.

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Basketball, Fox, NBA

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