Despite gaining coveted exclusivity for its Thursday-night National Basketball Association doubleheaders, Turner Network Television has set a modest ratings goal for its upcoming coverage.
The network, which will tip off its new six-year, $2.2 billion NBA package on Oct. 29, is only expecting to increase last year's 1.2 regular season rating by 0.2 to 0.3 ratings points, even though the contests won't face pro hoops competition from regional sports networks.
TNT will air the only two NBA games scheduled each Thursday.
"Traditionally, we've been faced with seven or eight other games going on at once with heavy local interest," Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus said. "Now we won't have that, and we think the exclusivity is worth a couple of tenths of a ratings point to us."
Looking to get a head start on heavy competition from cable networks on a night that's traditionally been a broadcast stronghold, TNT will toss the first ball on the doubleheader coverage at 7:30 p.m., instead of the typical 8 p.m. start time.
On the down side, the new lineup would appear to eliminate the network's ability to switch some late-season games to matchups with greater playoff implications. But Lazarus wouldn't rule out the possibility that the league could shift an important game to Thursday to provide wider coverage.
"The one thing I know in working with the NBA for 12 years is they are very sensitive to all their constituencies' needs," said Lazarus. "And if we have to figure out a way to do something that's good for the sport later on down the line, I know they'll be open to the dialogue.
"I don't think it's the league's intent [to switch games], but given the creativity and expertise that they have in working with us, I'll never rule anything out."
Familiar On-Air Faces
Beyond the time change, Lazarus said the network's on-air NBA coverage will remain similar to last year.
"We'll freshen our set and work with new technologies, but we're not changing the world — we're still producing high-quality basketball games," he said. "The package we designed is a great value for cable operators, our viewers and advertisers."
The network will retain its slate of NBA announcers, including Marv Albert, Mike Fratello,
Jeff Van Gundy, Kevin Harlan, John Thompson, Danny Ainge, Dick Stockton
TNT will support its new exclusive Thursday-night package with an extensive multi-platform marketing campaign. To drive viewership to the games — as well as the new Charles Barkley talk show Listen Up!, which leads into the Thursday games at 7 p.m.
— TNT will produce individual 15- and 30-second promos for both properties.
In addition, there will be combination spots for the entire Thursday primetime package that will air on such Turner-owned and operated networks as TBS Superstation, Cable News Network, Cartoon Network, and the Airport Channel, according to TNT senior vice president of sports marketing and programming Jeff Gregor.