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Air Jordan Inflates Comcast Ad Sales

Michael Jordan's much-publicized comeback — which has already altered Turner Sports' and NBC's plans for covering the National Basketball Association — has also had a major effect on Comcast SportsNet's ad sales.

The Washington/Baltimore regional sports network formerly known as Home Team Sports — which holds the rights to Jordan's new team, the Washington Wizards — expects to carry "all we can carry," said president David Nevins. That means over 60 of the 82 scheduled Wizards games, up from 49 last season, he said.

The NBA's national contract allows NBC to carry up to 11 games involving one team, and also gives Turner a share of the action, though CSN retains the rights to any Turner games within the Washington market.

Last week, Turner said it would pick up five additional Wizards games in October, including Jordan's Oct. 30 opening-night return against the New York Knicks, to air on TBS. Previously, TNT was slated to only air the Wizards' Nov. 28 game versus the defending Eastern Conference champion (and Comcast-owned) Philadelphia 76ers. NBC, which didn't include Washington in its original slate, has scheduled two Wizards contests in the campaign's first five weeks.

By contract, TBS and TNT can combine to televise up to 15 games involving any one team during the regular season; Turner is expected to add more games later.

"It's too early to gauge any impact on sponsor sales," a Turner spokesman said.

That wasn't the case at Comcast SportsNet. So far, the regional sports network has sold "about 50 percent of the inventory," which accounts for the extra games and the addition of pre- and post-game shows.

Because Jordan has "dramatically upgraded our product" amid the generally sluggish ad-sales marketplace, "our rates are up by greater than 100 percent," Nevins said.

The network sells Wizards games on a standalone basis and in packages with other local teams, Nevins added.

Though he wouldn't identify any clients, Nevins said the top categories so far have been "traditional advertisers," including car dealers, beverage makers and major retailers in the Baltimore/Washington area. Many political associations are also trying to ride Jordan's coattails in a bid to influence political leaders — "even some in the White House," Nevins said.

As for ratings guarantees, Nevins said, "We try not to do that," though he conceded that the network will "occasionally, for advertisers that insist."

Should Jordan be injured or announce a re-retirement, clients may demand make-goods. "That's certainly in the back of our minds, sure," said Nevins.

But the network "never sells a single player," Nevins noted. "There's too much risk associated with that."

Jordan is not Comcast SportNet's only marquee acquisistion. The National Hockey League's Washington Capitals also landed a superstar this off season — Jaromir Jagr — a player whose presence could help the team win the Stanley Cup.

And its coverage of the Oct. 6 Baltimore Orioles game — Cal Ripken's last in Major League Baseball — added yet another ad-sales bonanza, Nevins said, noting that the network upped its rates for the contest.

With respect to Jordan, CSN's big windfall is likely to come in the second year of No. 23's two-year deal, in Nevins's view.

"The biggest financial benefit would be in the second year," he said, noting the service has only been on the street for a couple of weeks since Jordan's comeback became official, and "we've had an extraordinary response."

Next year, Nevins said, the network would be able to take full advantage of the situation by selling Wizards package early in the year — "presumably [armed] with higher ratings and rates as well."

"I think the ratings will be up 500 percent or more," he said.

Jordan's return will also serve to lift the network's profile.

"The biggest benefit to Michael playing is not ad revenues — though ad revenues are great, don't get me wrong — but greater exposure for our network," which was rebranded in April, he said.