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Volume 24 No. 156
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PLAYOFF RATINGS WATCH: NBA'S TOP MARKETS SIT AND WATCH

     With the Knicks, Bulls, Lakers and Suns out of the playoffs,John Helyar writes in the WALL STREET JOURNAL that the loss ofthe nation's top three media markets and another with a top star-- Charles Barkley -- "may augur poorly for continued playoffviewership."  The NBA's Final Four, ranked by media market:Rockets (No. 11), Magic (No. 22), Pacers (No. 24), and Spurs (No.39).  While Jerry Dominus, Senior Partner at J. Walter ThompsonUSA, says those teams are "not exactly David Stern's dream team,"NBC Sports spokesperson Ed Markey counters, "The idea thatratings are driven by the size of market is a fallacy.  It'sreally storyline-driven, personality-driven, quality-of-playdriven."  Helyar notes that the NBA "faces stiffer competitionfrom the NHL playoffs from here on out."  Fox will run theBlackhawks-Canucks on Sunday, hoping to grab viewers from the No.3 Chicago market (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/23).  In New York, SteveZipay writes that NBC is not worried.  "The worst-case Finalswould be Rockets-Pacers and 80 percent of the ads are alreadysold for next season" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 5/23).     RATINGS CHECK:  The Knicks-Pacers Game 7 earned an 11.4/28in overnights, with a 17.2/37 in New York and a 31.6/58 inIndianapolis.  The Rangers-Flyers managed a 4.4/10 in New Yorkduring the same period (N.Y. POST, 5/23).  Nationally, the NHLgot a 2.7 in overnights, up 17% from ABC's coverage last year(Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 5/23).     ANYTHING FOR FOX:  The NHL's remaining Western Conferenceteams are "steaming over" the fact that they will have to playback-to-back games in each city this weekend, so that both gamescan be shown on Fox.  In order to show Sunday's Blackhawks-Canucks game at 2pm CDT on Sunday, the teams have to fly outimmediately after Saturday's game in Vancouver (Mike Beamish,VANCOUVER SUN, 5/23).