NEW YORK Pro basketball is off to a slow start on Ted Turner’s TNT, dropping 20% in the Nielsen ratings from the same November period in 1997.
The comparison year is 1997 because a lockout of National Basketball Assn. players delayed the 1998-99 season until February 1999.
Rick Gentile, president of Diamond Sports and a former top sports executive at CBS, cites a number of reasons for the falloff in the NBA numbers.
“There’s no buzz about the NBA right now,” Gentile says. “With Michael Jordan retired, there’s a changing of the guard, but no player or team has emerged to grab the spotlight.”
Gentile says that “you can’t find on a map” the teams that are playing the best ball so far this year, such as the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Supersonics.
Major market malaise
Conversely, many of the successful big-city teams of the recent past including the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets are managing only mediocre results.
A sign of the times, says Gentile, is that the most compelling storyline so far this season has been the tension surrounding former Golden State Warriors’ player Latrell Sprewell’s return to San Francisco as a member of the Knicks. It was Sprewell’s first visit since he choked Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo, an attack that caused Sprewell’s banishment from the Warriors and suspension from the NBA for more than a year.
For the first eight NBA cablecasts of the 1999-2000 season, TNT is averaging only a 1.6 rating in cable homes compared with a 2.0 rating for the comparable period in 1997, which covered nine games.
In contrast to TNT, which schedules games every Tuesday and Friday, TBS schedules only one game a week, on Wednesday. In the three TBS games so far this season, the network is averaging a 1.8 rating in cable homes, which is 6% higher than the 1.7 rating in 1997.