Cable operators "are stepping up their battle" against ESPN's move to raise programming fees 20% to help pay for its NFL contract, according to Steve Donohue of ELECTRONIC MEDIA. TCI, TCA Cable TV, Cable ONE, Charter Communications and Falcon Cable "have explored the feasibility of moving" ESPN from basic or expanded basic carriage to a new, separately-priced tier which would also include other sports programmers. TCA Cable TV has had "preliminary internal discussions" about placing ESPN, Fox Sports Southwest, The Golf Channel and Speedvision in a sports tier. While such a tier "would reduce" operators' ESPN programing costs, "many say that contractual and technical issues make it very difficult to make a new sports tier a reality." In addition, some MSOs said that ESPN "has rejected ideas" to move off of basic service. But ESPN VP/Affil Relations Sean Bratches said that ESPN "hasn't been approached by operators requesting a new sports tier," and that the network has reached agreements with "well over" 90% of its carriers on contract extensions, despite the cost of carrying ESPN increasing on August 1 from $.87 a subscriber per month to $1.07 per subscriber per month (ELECTRONIC MEDIA, 6/15).
Sunday night's Bulls-Jazz Game Six earned a 22.3/38 final national rating, making it the highest rated NBA broadcast in history. The game was watched by an estimated 72 million viewers, which also establishes a new all-time record for an NBA telecast. In addition, Sunday's rating means the '98 Finals averaged an 18.7/33 rating, making it the highest rated Finals ever, 4% better than the previous high of 17.9/33 for the Bulls-Suns Final in '93. This year also saw an 11% jump from last year's 16.8/30 average (THE DAILY). Friday night's Game Five earned a 19.8/37 final rating for NBC. Its estimated audience of 60.9 million viewers makes it the third-most-viewed NBA telecast in history, behind Sunday night's game and last month's Pacers- Bulls Game Seven, which drew 61.4 million viewers (NBC). OTHER NUMBERS: In Chicago, Game Six earned a 52.1 rating on the local NBC affil, "making it the most watched event in Chicago for the year" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/16). CABLE READY: CNBC's "NBA Finals Post-Game Specials," which aired after each Finals game broadcast, averaged a 1.0 rating, a 30% increase from last year's .74 average (CNBC). GOOD MARKS FOR NBC: In Boston, Jim Baker called NBC's Game Six telecast "loaded," adding it "caught all the drama" of the game (BOSTON HERALD, 6/15). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes that NBC's broadcast team "must be complimented for -- especially down the stretch -- letting the game breathe. [Isiah] Thomas, [Bob] Costas, and Doug Collins correctly kept their calls to a minimum late in the fourth quarter, allowing viewers to feel the moment" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/16). Also in N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes that Hannah Storm's work during the Finals "made it clear that [she] is one of sports' best studio hosts" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/16). ROBERTO PANNED: In Utah, Scott Pierce reviewed NBC's broadcast under the header, "NBC Ignored Its Own Observations, Analysis." Concerning two apparent miscues by the refs involving the shot clock, Pierce wrote, "At the very least, shouldn't the events in Sunday's game have elicited a discussion about ... some sort of official review of the videotape?" More Pierce: "Costas and the other members of the NBC broadcast team were left looking as if their special relationships with the Bulls and the NBA were more important to them than any sort of vague journalistic integrity they might have" (DESERET NEWS, 6/16). In Boston, Howard Manly: "It might just be time to bring Marv Albert back ... because his replacement, 'I, Bob Costas,' has taken the simple game of basketball and made it his own pulpit" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/16). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes that Costas "is not Albert. His voice doesn't match the rhythms of basketball as faithfully as Albert's did." While Costas is "prepared," and "rarely makes mistakes ... his style seems more suited to baseball" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/16). THE UGLY: Jazz F Karl Malone "blasted" the Jazz radio announcers on team-owned KFAN-AM yesterday and "threatened to get them fired for criticizing him during the NBA Finals. Malone: "Either they shake that station up at KFAN with the two experts they got on that, or they've got to do something else with me. So it's me or them." The announcers, David Locke and former Jazz coach Tom Nissalke, declined comment (Michael Lewis, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 6/16). SOMEBODY STOP HIM! TIME looks at John Tesh's "NBA on NBC" theme song. Tesh said that the melody, called "Roundball Rock," has the "same pace as a fast break -- 120 feet a minute." He added that he is "thinking of doing a rap version of the song next year" (TIME, 6/22 issue).
The case concerning's Viacom's suit against the Red Sox and Bruins, its partners in NESN, over rights fees inequities and compensation if NESN goes from premium pay status to basic cable, goes to an arbitration hearing this week. In Boston, Jim Baker wrote that the outcome, "in addition to addressing Viacom's dissatisfaction," may set the stage for more moves, including Fox Sports New England becoming a more aggressive bidder for local rights (BOSTON HERALD, 6/14)....The NHL Kings signed a new three-year radio deal with CBS-owned KRLA-AM, making it the team's new flagship. KRLA will carry all Kings games beginning this season, and the deal marks the end of the Kings' eight-year relationship with San Diego-based XTRA (Kings)....N.Y.'s WCBS-TV sports anchor Warner Wolf "found himself at a loss for words" yesterday "when his dentures popped out on live TV." Wolf eventually replaced the bridge and finished his report: "I've been on the air for 38 years and that's the worst thing that's ever happened to me" (N.Y. POST, 6/16).
The Senators signed a 10-year broadcasting and play-by- play deal with the new Ottawa Sports Radio, OSR 1200, which will be the city's first all-sports radio station. OSR will begin carrying Senators games next season (Senators). YEAR-ROUND EXPOSURE: Although financial terms were not released, Senators President Roy Mlakar said that the deal ranks "among the top-10 in radio rights deals for NHL teams." The Senators had been carried by CFRA radio, and although a year still remained on that deal, the team "negotiated to dissolve that contract" in order to sign with OSR (David Naylor, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 6/16). In Ottawa, Ken Warren writes that the new pact "makes the Senators the major player on OSR and in position to control how much Senators coverage is on the air" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 6/16). OSR, which will be owned by Calgary-based Rawlco Communications, will debut in early September and will "also be known as Ottawa Senators Radio" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 6/16). MAJOR LEAF DEAL: The Maple Leafs "are on the verge" of announcing a new five-year deal with Molson worth about C$23M a season. In Toronto, Rob Longley reports the deal, which would give Molson the rights to 50-55 mid-week Leafs games, "is expected" to be for a minimum of five years, with the brewery holding an option to extend. Molson would sell the broadcast rights to TSN "and retain a promotional presence." Longley adds that if the deal is completed, TSN, which recently lost the rights to "HNIC," will be "back into NHL hockey in a big way" (TORONTO SUN, 6/16).