Nets Gear for NBA Playoffs

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Both ESPN and Turner Network Television are hoping to convert strong National Basketball Association regular-season ratings into slam-dunk playoff performances.

Both networks were on track to finish their respective regular-season coverage with a 1.4 rating.

For ESPN’s Wednesday and Friday night telecasts, such a mark would represent a 17% increase from last year’s 1.2 rating, according to ESPN senior vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin.

TNT’s exclusive Thursday-night telecasts have generated a 1.4, also up 17% from last year, said TNT Sports president David Levy. “We’re still getting high double-digit increases in ratings over the two years of our new NBA agreement, and we anticipate that type of over delivery for the playoffs.”

The basketball league’s regular season ends on April 14, with the playoffs slated to begin April 17.

WESTERN APPEAL

With the strong appeal of the Western Conference teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and last year’s champion San Antonio Spurs, network officials believe the service is poised to beat last year’s 3.2 playoff rating. TNT has exclusive coverage of the second-round and Western Conference final games, as no regional sports network will be allowed to compete.

“That’s a nice advantage and a ratings booster for us,” Levy said. “Also, the stories themselves will help drive ratings.”

Turner is supporting its NBA playoff games with an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign, touting its near-nightly game coverage. In addition to spot radio and “strategic” print ads in USA Today, the network is rolling an outdoor campaign into 13 NBA markets.

Primarily featuring New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd and Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal, the shelter billboards will emphasize the “loser go home” mentality of the playoffs, said Turner Sports senior vice president Jeff Gregor.

“We want to maximize the overall message that the NBA playoffs are upon us and we’ll have over 40 games in 40 nights,” he said. “If you’re turning on the television and looking for NBA coverage, you need to go to TNT first, because there’s a very good chance that there will be a game on that night.”

ESPN OPTIMISTIC

Bulgrin is equally optimistic said that the network can continue its strong regular season performance into the postseason and best last year’s 2.4 playoff rating. ESPN will have exclusive coverage of the Eastern Conference finals.

“You have the New York Knicks in the playoffs for the first time in two years which should drive fan interest, as well as all the big, high-profile teams,” he said. “Obviously, viewing levels were up this year, which bodes well for the postseason.”

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