Turner, Fox Nets Upbeat on NBA

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With last year's National Basketball Association lockoutbehind them, Turner Sports and the Fox Sports regional networks hope to draw more viewersto their NBA telecasts starting this week.

The league will play a full 82-game season after missingnearly one-half of last year's games due to the six-month owners' lockout. Yet despite theshortened season, Turner and Fox reported ratings increases over the 1997-98 season.

Turner is especially pumped about the upcoming NBAcampaign, as it is the first full season under Turner's four-year, $890 million cable dealwith the league.

Turner Sports senior vice president of programming KevinO'Malley noted that last year, even with the truncated season, Turner Network Televisionand TBS Superstation averaged a 1.8 rating, up 5 percent.

"Clearly, the most important outcome to us last yearwas that the fans continued to watch the games," O'Malley said. "We felt prettygood about last season. A number of bad things that could have happened didn't."

The rump campaign also generated up-and-coming teams thatthe network hopes to exploit this year. Clubs such as the Sacramento Kings, the TorontoRaptors and the Portland Trailblazers will be featured more throughout the 80-game seasonschedule -- 53 games on TNT and 27 on TBS.

Turner got cash, not additional games, to compensate for 28lost telecasts last year, O'Malley said. Last June, in a move several operators calledunprecedented, Turner gave operators a 26-cent-per-subscriber rebate to compensate forlost NBA games.

This year, O'Malley expects smooth sailing and highratings, although he would not make projections.

Meanwhile, the Fox Sports regional networks expect strongperformances from their local NBA telecasts. The regionals will air about 1,070 NBA gamesthis season.

Fox Sports executive vice president of programming andproduction Arthur Smith said the lockout hurt ratings for both the regionals and for FoxSports News, which often precedes and follows regional team telecasts. With a full NBAseason, Smith believes regional ratings should thrive.

"It's difficult to replace the local home-team product-- nothing's going to match that kind of rating," he said. "Fortunately, thefans came back, and our numbers were consistent with the numbers from the previous year.There's a lot of optimism for the upcoming season, and I don't see why [ratings] couldn'tbe up this season."

Fox will add several innovations to its telecasts thisyear, including a camera on the backboard. "We want to provide more focus on the bigmen's action and provide sequences that detail the game above the rim," Smith said.

The network will also provide viewers with a shot-by-shotgraphic, offering a more thorough breakdown of how the game is being played, Smith added.