NBA Playoffs Add Up to An Air Ball for Turner

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Sabotaged by several non-competitive contests, ratings for Turner Sports' National Basketball Association playoff telecasts were off significantly from last year.

Nielsen Media Research ratings for a combined 36 playoff telecasts on Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation averaged a 2.3, down by 18 percent from a 2.8 average for 38 games during the 2000 playoff season.

The playoff falloff follows a 15 percent drop in ratings for regular-season contests, from a 1.3 rating in 2000 to a 1.1 this year.

But Turner Sports executives said the low numbers would not deter the company from aggressively pursuing a renewal of its NBA contract, which expires after next season.

TNT spokesman Paul Bennett blamed a succession of blowout contests for the network's poor playoff-ratings performance. Indeed, Turner's last telecast — May 24's Eastern Conference Finals Game 2 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers — was a 92-78 Bucks rout.

Bennett noted that ratings for Inside the NBA
— the network's pre- and post-game show — managed to match last year's 1.4 rating.

"We attribute that to the Charles factor," referring to the popularity of the show's flamboyant commentator, former NBA star Charles Barkley.

TBS' regular-season and postseason ratings decline comes as Turner and the NBA unofficially discuss renewal of the league's cable package. Turner's four-year, $890 million deal expires in 2002, and at least one other network, ESPN, has intimated that it may have an interest in obtaining the high-profile games.

But Bennett said that the network is committed to retaining cable rights to NBA games.

"We're going to stay as aggressive as we've been in the past," he said. "We have a long relationship with the NBA, and we hope to continue that relationship in the future."

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