TNT Rides Jordan Appeal

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He's more earthbound than in the halcyon days of "His Airness" — and his new team, the Washington Wizards, may not be winning many games — but Michael Jordan has thus far been a ratings winner for Turner Sports' coverage of the National Basketball Association.

Boosted by three Jordan appearances, NBA telecasts on Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation have averaged a combined 1.7 rating, up 18 percent from last year's 1.4 rating.

As a result, Turner Sports has added two additional Wizards games, bringing its total of Wizards appearances to eight on TNT and TBS this season.

TNT will replace a Dec. 12 Toronto Raptors-Phoenix Suns game with a Miami Heat-Wizards contest, while a post-Christmas Dec. 26 Wizards-Charlotte Hornets game will run instead of an Indiana Pacers-Orlando Magic matchup, said Turner Sports executives.

Prior to Jordan's return to the NBA after a three-year retirement, Turner had scheduled just one Wizards game. But the network can offer as many as 15 Wizards games this year, and given early ratings returns, it's not a stretch to believe that Turner will ultimately maximize Jordan's exposure.

TBS Superstation's opening-night Wizards-New York Knicks contest drew an impressive 3.3 rating on Oct. 30 — even though the telecast was blacked out in the New York market, and faced competition from Game 3 of the New York Yankees-Arizona

Diamondbacks World Series on the Fox broadcast network.

TNT's Nov. 1 Wizards-Atlanta Hawks contest — pitted against World Series game 5 — averaged a 1.6 rating, while its Nov. 7 Wizards-Boston game pulled in a 1.8 rating.

"A lot of our early ratings success can be attributed to the appeal of Michael Jordan, particularly when you consider that the first two games went head-to-head with the World Series," said Turner Sports senior vice president of public relations Greg Hughes.

Meanwhile, the NBA has extended its exclusive negotiating window with Turner well beyond the initial Oct. 15 deadline. Hughes would not comment on the specifics of the talks, although he said that Turner is "having productive conversations" with the league.

The NBA's $2.5 billion television-rights deals with Turner and broadcaster NBC conclude with the 2001-2002 season.

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