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NBA Tips Demo, Ratings Gains

National cable carriers TNT and ESPN have recorded demographic advances with their early-season coverage of the 2007-08 National Basketball Association season, while a number of FSN owned-and-operated regional sports networks have posted sizable ratings increases.

Through its first six games (excluding the Nov. 15 doubleheader), TNT recorded a 1.5 household rating, even with the same stage of last season, and 30% ahead of its 1.2 average for its entire 52-game regular-season slate for the 2006-07 season, said network officials. Total viewers improved 4% to 1.44 million for the “drama” network’s pro basketball coverage over the first six contests, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

From a demographic perspective, TNT said its NBA games grew 24% with persons 18 to 34 (609,000 of those viewers), 9% among the 18-to-49 set (999,000) and 7% against adults 25 to 54 (891,000). TNT scored 40% growth among men 18 to 34 (475,000) and 19% with men 18 to 49 (760,000).

At ESPN, household ratings slipped to a 1.3 average for nine games through its Nov. 14 coverage of the Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets contest, from a 1.4 mark for 10 games at the same point of last season, said ESPN officials. Last season, ESPN averaged a 1.1 rating for its 71 regular-season games.

Thus far in the 2007-08 season, households for ESPN’s NBA games edged up to 1.29 million from 1.28 million, while total viewers dipped to 1.53 million from 1.55 million, according to Nielsen data.

The total sports network reported strong male demo gains with pro hoops. Men 18 to 34 soared 38% to a 1.8 rating with that set from a 1.4 the previous year, while men 18 to 49 grew 17% to a 1.4 mark, compared with a 1.2 mark at the corresponding stage of last season.

Among FSN owned-and-operated regionals, FSN Southwest and FSN Arizona set the early percentage paces with their coverage of the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns, respectively.

Over its first four Rockets games, FSN Southwest soared 70% to a 3.9 rating in the Houston DMA from a 2.3 at the same stage of last season, according to Nielsen data. For all of the 2006-07 campaign, the RSN averaged a 2.6 mark with the club in the Houston market.

Matching its average for all of last season, FSN Arizona dunked a 5.0 household rating in the Phoenix market with its first two games, a 61% jump from a 3.1 during the initial stages of last season.

Significant increases also were recorded by: FSN Midwest, where four Pacers games rose 48% to a 3.4 household rating in Indianapolis from a 2.3 at last season’s outset; FSN Detroit, up 39% to a 5.0 in the Motor City for the Pistons’ opener from a 3.6 for the club’s 2006-07 starter; and Sports South, where four Hawks games increased 50% to a 1.2 Atlanta DMA average.

It was a mixed bag in the early going for Sun Sports, which registered a 79% surge to a 2.6 rating in Orlando for the Magic’s opener, while three Heat games thawed 37% to a 2.2 mark in Miami.

Other FSN owned-and-operated regionals on the down side early in the NBA season included: FSN Ohio, off 37% to a 3.6 in Cleveland for five Cavaliers games; FSN North, where a pair of Timberwolves game declined 33% to a 1.2 household average in the Minneapolis-St. Paul DMA; and FSN Wisconsin, as four Bucks dropped 20% in the Milwaukee market to a 3.5 average.

All told, 16 FSN owned-and-operated regionals were ahead 10% to a 2.80 average for 39 games in the attendant DMAs.

“We’re very pleased with the first couple of weeks of ratings, “ said FSN executive vice president of ad sales Kyle Sherman. “FSN’s MLB ratings were up this summer, and the trend is continuing with the NBA as our viewers remain tuned into their hometown teams. Sports is TiVo-proof, and FSN’s strength is that we provide advertisers live drama every night we carry a game.”