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Kickoff classic

NFL openers off to fast start for Fox, CBS

The new NFL season got off to a strong Nielsen start Sunday — welcome news for CBS and Fox, which invested billions to secure pigskin rights.

Overnight ratings for weekend games were solid enough, in fact, to suggest a big season may be in the offing for football.

Biggest winner was Fox’s national telecast of a Minnesota-Atlanta matchup. It nabbed the highest metered-market rating for any telecast of the Sept. 6-12 Nielsen week, outrating even primetime fare such as the Emmys, ”Frasier” and ”60 Minutes.”

Viewers weren’t just ready for some football. The Eye’s coverage of the annual U.S. Open, which featured popular wins by Americans Serena Williams and Andre Agassi, at least doubled year-ago metered-market ratings.

Saturday’s Williams victory over Martina Hingis in the women’s finals scored a 7.2 rating, 17 share in Nielsen’s 46 metered markets, repping a stunning 100% improvement over year-ago figures.

Game point

Then on Sunday, Agassi’s win over Todd Martin in the men’s finals earned a 7.1/14, 137% better than last year’s rating.

The NFL’s opening weekend produced even bigger overnights, with Fox’s late-game Minnesota-Atlanta coverage tackling a hefty 16.6/33. Combined with the day’s earlier Fox gridcast (9.6/22), Fox averaged a 13.1/28, up 12% over Fox’s single-game score for last year’s opening Sunday (depressed that year by the Labor Day holiday).

CBS’ single telecast last Sunday averaged a 12.0/29, up a brawny 46% over last year’s comparable early-Sunday coverage.

Numbers are positive signs for both CBS and Fox, since the 1998-99 NFL season ended up with ratings only slightly higher than the previous year.

If the opening weekend trend holds up, both webs will be able to sell ads for the 2000-2001 NFL season at a much higher rate, thus offsetting the huge costs associated with pigskin. Those costs get higher over the course of the multiyear agreements.

College gridiron’s hot

Second-weekend results for college football also suggest strong interest in pigskin coverage this fall, with ABC’s primetime telecast (UCLA-Ohio State in some parts of the country, Georgia Tech-Florida State in others) leading the way with a metered-market 6.4/12. That’s a 36% improvement over last year’s comparable Notre Dame-Michigan State coverage.

National results for last weekend’s daytime sports are due from Nielsen Thursday.

Nielsen’s metered-market ratings comprise weighted averages from 46 markets, accounting for 64% of the country’s TV homes. Each rating point reps 1% of the total universe being measured. A share point is a similar percentage, but measured against only those homes in which TV is being viewed during the timeslot involved.