Turner, NBA Extend Talks

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The National Basketball Association and Turner Sports last week extended their exclusive negotiation window in what many industry observers believe will be a bellwether for future television sports deals.

Turner initially had until Oct. 15 to exclusively negotiate a renewal of its four-year, $890 million deal, which expires after the 2001-2002 season. But due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the window has been extended indefinitely, said sources close to the situation.

Representatives from Turner and the NBA would not comment on negotiations. Turner, which has suffered through yearly declines in league ratings and faces a weakened advertising market, has already stated it would not break the bank to retain its NBA cable package.

In a conference call last week, NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged the challenges in today's TV sports marketplace, but said the league would be able to strike a good television deal.

"I would say that we're going to have to be collectively imaginative to continue our strong network revenues in light of what current conditions seem to be, literally, on a daily basis they seem to be changing, and I would say not necessarily for the positive," Stern said. "But I still remain optimistic that the NBA will have a good television contract."

Turner is optimistic that it will be able to stem its annual NBA ratings drop during the 2001-2002 season. With the emergence of the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers and the return of superstar Michael Jordan, Turner executives believe both TNT and TBS Superstation can improve on last year's combined 1.1 regular season rating.

Turner senior vice president of public relations Greg Hughes said TBS Superstation hopes to jump out of the gates fast with the airing of Jordan's first regular-season game in three years. The Oct. 30 Washington Wizards-New York Knicks game could generate as high as a 5 rating — even going head-to-head against the third game of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. And that's even with the TBS showing blacked out in New York in deference to Madison Square Garden Network's local telecast.

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