Turner Broadcasting, which got shut out of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, its home base, is not even going to get a crack at the trial events leading up to the Olympics.

NBC, which laid out $465 million for the exclusive U.S. network rights to the 1996 Summer Games, said Aug.9 it has sold 77 hours of Olympic trials to ESPN and ESPN 2. The two cable networks will schedule these competitions in various time periods between March 30, and July 19, the day NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games begins. The parties declined to comment on the license fee ESPN will pay NBC for these trials.

Time squeeze

One source says Turner’s TNT had conversations with NBC about buying the cable rights to some of the trials but couldn’t accommodate 77 hours because of TNT’s heavy commitment to movies and series, which score consistently higher ratings year-round than the sports events scheduled by ESPN.

From ESPN’s vantage point, the highlight of the coverage is the 18 hours of live track-and-field trials between June 14 and June 21 to determine which athletes will make the U.S. team. Unlike many of the other trials, the track-and-field events will take place in Atlanta.

Sports highlights

Other highlights for ESPN include a day of rhythmic gymnastics on June 28 from Boston, a July 19 repeat of a basketball game involving “Dream Team” pro basketball players,two days of boxing coverage, two games played by the U.S. baseball team, one men’s and two women’s soccer trials and as many as 13 anthology programs featuring trial-event summaries and profiles of the best athletes and teams.

One indication that ESPN is not expecting big ratings from these trials is that the weekly time period it’s setting aside between April and July is Saturday from midnight to 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.

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