View Full Version : Killing the Golden Goose: Stern's TV contract sacrifices viewers for advertising revenues

05-13-2003, 07:53 AM
Couldn't figure out why the Mavs v. Kings series had been relegated to ESPN2 last week. This explains.

The N.B.A. on ABC: Behind the Ratings

Each week, ABC Sports informs the world how much better its life is now that it broadcasts Sunday afternoon N.B.A. playoff games, which it can because ESPN, its cousin at the Walt Disney Company, buys the time. The numbers backing ABC's glee sound wonderful - for ABC.

The San Antonio-Los Angeles Lakers game on Sunday showed a 312 percent increase in its overnight Nielsen ratings over what ABC broadcast from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Eastern in 2002.

The Portland-Dallas game on May 4 got a national rating that was 142 percent higher than what ABC showed last year in the same time period.

The Minnesota-Los Angeles game on April 27 posted a rating that represented a 390 percent improvement over the programming of a year earlier.

Those are breathless, if convenient, comparisons. Get past the hype and its news releases omit the weak programming the N.B.A. is replacing. So naturally, ABC's playoff broadcasts overwhelmed the performance of World Cup soccer, the Grand Prix of Monaco auto race and the Hershey's Figure Skating Challenge, last year's fare.

Second, ABC mentions NBC, which broadcast the league for 12 years, and in doing so makes ABC's numbers look extraordinary.

ABC should not have been embarrassed to say that at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, the Spurs-Lakers 7.0 rating trounced the Nets-Charlotte game that NBC showed at the comparable time a year ago. NBC showed three games that day, starting at noon; at 5:30 p.m. last year, NBC also carried a Lakers-Spurs game, which earned an 8.9 rating.

For TNT, there is no dissonance. It can compare itself to itself, and its playoff rating has climbed 17 percent, including a second-round leap of 51 percent.

The size of the N.B.A.'s national viewership this year on ABC, ESPN and TNT is a hot topic, raising this question: Can a deal that landed the league more money be a better one if it reaches fewer viewers? The league wants to prove that by making six-year deals worth $4.6 billion with the three networks it saw the future - favoring cable networks that get revenues from advertisers and subscribers - and hugged it.

The subject has led to carping within the league and Disney that NBC has stealthily roused the news media to show that the cable-dominated distribution of games in the new deals has slashed viewership from a year ago, when NBC and TNT were the TV partners.

The numbers say that in the playoffs' first three weekends - where the number of games have shifted from broadcast to cable - the aggregate rating points are down 44 percent. For certain, some were lost because some people cannot or do not get cable. But have casual viewers accustomed to seeing Michael Jordan win titles left the fold?

Viewed through the prism of eyeballs watching the games, the increases cited by ABC and ESPN (its ratings are up 229 percent in the playoffs over its non-N.B.A. menu last year) accrue entirely to those networks and its advertisers. It is exciting to boast of big gains by acquiring a major new property, but ESPN is paying enormously more for the N.B.A. than it did for what it has replaced, including "Baseball Tonight," "SportsCenter" and the N.H.L. playoffs. ABC is paying nothing to carry the games, so its balance sheet must look stupendous.

Ed Erhardt, the president of ESPN/ABC Sports Sales, cited examples of advertisers, many of them new, who are benefiting from having their messages carried beyond the televised games throughout the ESPN empire - on ESPN.com, ESPN Radio and ESPN The Magazine - avenues unavailable on NBC.

"It's more than just how many people saw a commercial,'' he said. "Advertisers are interested if their sales go up, even if ratings are flat."

ESPN and ABC officials say their youthful demographics are significantly ahead of last year (up 16 percent with men 18 to 34 on ESPN, 22 percent on ABC).

And, largely because of ESPN's vast reach, Erhardt said, "We've been able to attract a bunch of new companies that never bought the N.B.A.''

NBC is not boasting much these days about its post-N.B.A. existence. Funny how the epitome of the sports TV partnership - the NBC-N.B.A. marriage - exists only in memory. NBC said it lost $210 million last season and $90 million the season before, leading it to decide not to renew its vows with the league.

If it has learned not to lose scads of money, NBC has also lost much of the audience it built over 12 years with the N.B.A. Its Arena Football League telecast generated a 0.9 percent overnight rating against the Spurs-Lakers. It is unfathomable that its recent weekend fare has included bull riding, curling and skateboarding (and the Kentucky Derby).

05-13-2003, 12:11 PM
good article thanks.

05-13-2003, 12:51 PM
I'm afraid that Stern is continuing to make deals such as this one which will provide a short term benefit, but in the long run will ultimately result in greatly reduced NBA audiences and revenues.

05-13-2003, 01:31 PM
Galloway belts a triple.....

Note the bold part at the bottom--that's money they're talking about, not team loyalty. Take it for what it's worth though.

League sticks series in bizarre time warp
By Randy Galloway
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Over the weekend, an assortment of night owls, hookers, cops, firemen, ER personnel, etc., saw the NBA at its absolute best (Saturday night-Sunday morning, Mavs-Kings) and at its league-office very worst (Sunday night-Monday morning, Mavs-Kings).

Tonight, we see the NBA at its earliest (6 o'clock tipoff, Game 5, Mavs-Kings).

Welcome to the Stepchild Series, the Oh-By-The-Way Series, the Anytime But Prime-time Series, the They Ain't Worthy Series.

If you can stay up late enough, or if you can get home from work early enough, chances are good that the Mavericks and Kings will reward you with the best entertainment the NBA has to offer, despite it being a league that no longer has much to offer.

In the world of theater, the pecking order is Broadway, off-Broadway and the sticks.

Mavs-Kings has been reduced to the NBA version of the sticks, so sayeth the league's TV-network partners, who are holding commissioner David Stern hostage.

Mark it down as another reason why it's unfair and untrue to label Major League Baseball as the most inept sport at the executive level. For those of us who don't necessarily want to agree with Mark Cuban on most anything, the man is right, and has always been right, in his verbal bashing of Stern's operation.

Obviously, Lakers-Spurs has become the network-mandated spotlight series in the playoffs. This is the NBA's Broadway production, with prime-time billing. Yet nothing that has happened, or is likely to happen, in that series that can come close to matching in entertainment what the Mavericks and Kings provided in Saturday night-Sunday morning's Game 3 from Sacramento.

This double-OT classic was an instant instructional film on how the NBA game should be played. Except how limited was the national viewing audience because of the late hour? And that late hour came courtesy of ESPN, which was showing a couple of bores from the Eastern Conference, Pistons and 76ers, in the prime-time slot Saturday night.

The scheduling is so dumb, the two Eastern Conference games rank ahead of Mavs-Kings on the TV networks' priority list. Where is Stern when these kinds of decisions are being made? How obvious does it have to be that the East is minor-league ball compared to the West, and certainly not the product the league needs to be promoting?

Unfortunately, the Game 3 classic in Sacramento did have a negative impact for Game 4, due once again to the ridiculous scheduling from the NBA.

For the Mavericks to survive in this series, they have to have their legs. It's gotta be run-run-run, shoot-shoot-shoot. Coming back 24 hours later for Game 4, the legs weren't there, the shooting was awful, and the Kings found the pace more to their liking. In a half-court game, Sac can destroy the Mavs, and did in Game 4.

So why wasn't Game 4 scheduled originally for Monday night? Stupidity and the TV networks, that's why.

Regardless, Sunday night was a big Sacramento win, just like Game 3 had been for the Mavericks.

A wild and eventful series through three games slowed to a crawl in Game 4, but wild and eventful should return tonight at New Arena with the series tied after four games.

In review, Game 1 featured the mighty Kings at their very best. Was this the start of a Sac sweep?

No, because Don Nelson, out of desperation, removed defense as a priority for Game 2. The Mavs went back to concentrating on the one thing they do well -- shoot, and then shoot again. It was their only hope. Nick Van Exel also emerged as the street-ball leader on a team full of nice guys. Nick brought a defiant edge to a team that needed one.

Mainly, however, the Mavs shot out the lights in Game 2, then did the same thing in Game 3 on the road. Both wins.

As much as fatigue in Game 4, the law of averages may have caught up with the Mavericks in the late Sunday night snoozer. Hot shooting is not forever. And it lasted two games.

Last but not least in this series, there's the Chris Webber injury factor. He was lost for the playoffs during Game 2.

Without Webber for Sac, are the Mavs now the series favorite?

There has been much debate on that, which meant I went to the expert to find out.

Las Vegas is full of such experts, but this one is Robert Walker, manager of the sports book for the Mirage.

Heading into Game 5, reports Walker, the Kings are still the slight favorite to win the series. They are minus-130, meaning a bettor puts up $130 to win $100. "With Dallas having regained the home-court again, and Webber being out, that's an indictment against the Mavericks," Walker said.

With Webber, the Kings had originally been a prohibitive favorite at minus-320 (put up $320 to win $100). "That was huge, and it surprised me it was that large," Walker said. "But now, you can see the kind of impact Webber's loss made."

In Game 1, by the way, the Kings were favored on the road by two points. Without Webber in tonight's Game 5, the Mavericks, as of Monday afternoon, were favored by 2 1/2. "Webber makes like a four-point difference on the line," Walker said. "That also is huge."

The Webber injury adds to the intrigue in a series that potentially offers the best in NBA entertainment for each game. It's amazingly dumb that the league office didn't see it that way when the scheduling was made.

05-13-2003, 02:04 PM
Thanks Kiki...2 great posts. The hypocrisy of the NBA office is just overwhelming.

05-13-2003, 02:11 PM
Good article.

05-13-2003, 03:37 PM
David Stern = Bozo the Clown

05-16-2003, 07:50 AM
Stern to Mavs: F'y'all

Stern to Fans: F'y'all. Shut up and pay, suckers.

Notebook: Stern warning: Just play games
Commissioner urges teams to quit whining about back-to-backs


From Staff Reports

SACRAMENTO, Calif. NBA commissioner David Stern had two words for the Mavericks and other teams who had to play back-to-back games in the second round of the playoffs.

Quit whining.

The commissioner, who is not prone to tossing out words that aren't well thought out, said the four teams that had to play on consecutive nights last weekend should just deal with it.

"Back to back, just cut it out," Stern said before Game 6 on Thursday at Arco Arena. "Our teams do that all the time. There's always been a back-to-back possibility in the West. That's just terrible whining.

"A back-to-back is not the end of the world."

The Mavericks and Kings played Saturday and Sunday, as did Detroit and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.

The Saturday Mavs-Kings game went to double overtime, leaving both teams at less than peak efficiency the following night.

This after there were four days between some games in the first round of the playoffs.

"It [the scheduling] is very complex," Stern said of the playoff scheduling. "We'd have to have everybody come in and look at the grid. It's an extraordinary undertaking."

Mark Cuban, informed that Stern wanted him and everybody else to stop griping about the back-to-back games, had a calculated response.

"Both teams played hard," Cuban said. "That's my response."

That was a not-so-veiled reference to Portland's Rasheed Wallace, who used that response whenever he was asked a question this postseason.

As usual, Stern spent a lot of time talking about officiating as he had an informal question-and-answer session.

"Our referees miss calls," Stern said. "And as our game has gotten more popular, there has been more publicity about those missed calls. But there are always going to be calls that aren't made and calls that are made that shouldn't be made. And the commissioner standing here in 50 years will be answering questions about it."

However, Stern bristled when the subject of a conspiracy theory regarding the NBA or referees having a preference for which teams go furthest in the playoffs was brought up.

"I think there's a certain responsibility on the media because you are suggesting that either the referees, or more specifically the executives, are felons," Stern said. "I laugh at that."

Eddie Sefko

05-16-2003, 09:11 AM
Great job kiki!

05-16-2003, 12:49 PM
English translation of Sterns comments:

I don't give a rat's ass about the fans. F'em. I'm above the fans, the owners, and everyone. This game is all about me. I love F'ing teams over with the refs and bad calls and have absolutely no intention of stopping. In fact, I plan on making it worse next year. The best part of being commissioner is the ability to screw teams and fans over on a whim.

05-16-2003, 04:10 PM
Both teams played hard

05-16-2003, 04:10 PM
Edit: Double Post