The demise of the Los Angeles Lakers has yet to dampen the ratings momentum for Turner Network Television's coverage of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
TNT's coverage of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, pitting the San Antonio Spurs against the Dallas Mavericks, posted a 4.9 rating, according to network officials. The figure was well above the network's 3.9 average for its third-round playoff coverage last year.
Industry observers had questioned whether TNT could generate stellar ratings for the conference finals, after the Spurs eliminated the three-time champion Lakers.
But Turner Sports president David Levy said the all-Texas series between the Spurs and the Mavs features two popular squads.
"While we may have lost the Lakers, what we have gained is a marquee matchup between the team that beat them, in the San Antonio Spurs, led by league MVP Tim Duncan, and the only other 60-win team in the NBA," Levy said.
The first game of the Spurs-Mavericks series continued TNT's strong NBA playoffs performance. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the network said it averaged a 2.9 rating for 40 telecasts, up 21% from the same period last year.
Unlike 2002, TNT will benefit from its exclusive coverage of the Western conference finals, including local-TV blackouts in the San Antonio and Dallas markets.
ESPN also hopes to benefit from regional exclusivity for its coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals between the New Jersey Nets and the Detroit Pistons. ESPN's May 20 Nets-Pistons telecast averaged a 3.3 rating to bring the network's overall playoff mark to a 2.5 — a 257% jump over the 0.7 average rating for its various sports programming a year ago.
The NBA, criticized for putting the bulk of the playoffs on cable under its new $4.6 billion deal with ESPN/ABC Sports and Turner Sports, has also been pleased by cable's ratings.
Spokesman Mike Bass said the overall gross ratings points for ESPN, ABC and TNT's first-round playoffs were up 3% over coverage on NBC and TNT last year.