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Stern Delivers Glowing Report

TV ratings for Finals are up, but the NBA commissioner says it's unrealistic to match numbers of late '90s.

June 09, 2004|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Meeting with reporters Tuesday at Staples Center, NBA Commissioner David Stern painted a rosy picture of the league, citing encouraging TV ratings, a competitive Finals matchup, burgeoning business partnerships, etc.

"That said, with respect to other issues like length of playoff schedule, putting together a successful Olympic team and the low scoring this season," he noted, turning to his deputy, "I'd like to introduce Russ Granik."

But seriously, folks.

Stern said it was unrealistic to expect the NBA's TV ratings to ever again scale the heights reached before the proliferation of cable and satellite. He said that the NBA would revisit its decision to grant exclusive rights to the conference finals to cable outlets. European expansion, he said, is a ways off.

The rating for Game 1 of the Finals on Sunday, matching the Lakers and the Detroit Pistons, was a 9.8, an increase from Game 1 last year between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets, but half of the audience from the late '90s.

"In this day and age, where the final game of the NCAAs gets an 11-something, you are seeing the enormous viewing decline across the board in network television," Stern said. "I use the example of the 'Friends' last episode, which was a real blockbuster ... but delivered half the viewers that the 'MASH' last episode got.

"We are delighted with the ratings in the first game. And maybe with some luck, we'll go into double figures, but that's the life that network television is going to be delivering and that's just the way it is."

Of European expansion, he said: "The reality is becoming clear to us that the infrastructure, meaning buildings, world-class arenas, [is] simply not there outside the United States....

"Right now, we are limited to exhibitions and the like, but we are watching carefully."

He indicated that the Anshutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center, was planning arena projects in London and Berlin.

Of the scoring decline, Granik said there was "no sentiment" among the league's members to make drastic rules changes.

He also said the NBA, in response to numerous complaints, would reduce the number of days off between early-round playoff games next year.

As for the continually evolving U.S. Olympic team, of which nearly a dozen elite players have dropped off, Granik noted, "We don't try to twist arms." He said the team eventually sent to Athens would be younger but "still competitive."

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