The National Basketball Association, already scarred by its
six-month lockout, will most likely take a further hit with the loss of its premiere
The retirement of Michael Jordan last week was
disappointing for fans, as well as for cable networks that air NBA games. But while
admitting that ratings for both local telecasts of Jordan's Chicago Bulls, as well as
for national games via Turner Network Television, will suffer, network executives believe
that their business won't be severely affected.
Jordan, who won six championships over the past eight years
with the Bulls, was one of the biggest draws for cable, both regionally and nationally.
TNT, for example, generated ratings 65 percent higher for games featuring the Bulls than
for those with other teams, the network said.
But a TNT spokesman also pointed out that when Jordan
retired in 1993, Bulls games were still pacing 24 percent above all other telecasts.
"The Bulls still did above-average ratings because
they were defending champions, and they still had a quality team," said Greg Hughes,
vice president of public relations for TNT. "While Jordan is an important part, he
wasn't the only factor in the Bulls being a strong draw."
Marv Albert, host of Madison Square Garden Network's MSG
SportsDesk and a veteran NBA announcer, also believes that NBA ratings will remain
stable without Jordan.
"You take a hit when you lose Michael Jordan, but I
think that there are enough stars and enough rivalries that the league will continue to
flourish," he said. "A lot of players have retired before, and the league
continued on and continues to be popular, although Jordan will be missed."
On the local level, Fox Sports Chicago estimated that the
loss of Jordan will cost the network about 25 percent in ratings points. However, Jim
Corno, vice president and general manager for the service, said the lure of the Bulls
within the market will still be strong post-Jordan.
"The NBA in Chicago is much stronger now than when
Michael retired the first time," Corno said.
WGN, a Chicago-based superstation that telecasts 15 Bulls
games, also feels that the network's value hasn't diminished with the loss of
Jordan. Several WGN affiliates have said in the past that the strong draw of WGN's
Bulls telecasts was a major factor in their carrying the service.
"I don't think that we'll see any
loses," said Derk Tenzythoff, vice president of programming services for UVTV, which
uplinks WGN. "We still have NBA games, and we're coming off a great Chicago Cubs
[Major League Baseball] year. But we're in the same boat with TNT and Fox Sports
Chicago in recognizing that the NBA is a much stronger product with Michael Jordan."