Originally created 06/02/01

Lakers' success is bad for TV



LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Lakers' dominance in the 2001 playoffs is a losing proposition for television and the NBA.

The team swept the first three rounds of the playoffs with 11 straight victories, bad news when it comes to ratings and advertising dollars for the networks and revenue for the NBA.

"In conference finals, each game is worth about $5 million to $10 million in ad revenue," industry analyst David Carter said. "If a series goes only four games, not six or seven, they run the risk of forgoing what could have been sold in ads."

That could amount to about $20 million, Carter said.

Generally, a seven-game series must go to five games to break even, he said. The Lakers needed only four games to defeat San Antonio and Sacramento, and three games (out of five) to defeat Portland. Out of a maximum 19 possible games, they have played the minimum 11.

Los Angeles is four wins away from a second straight championship and an unprecedented perfect playoff sweep.

Paul Lazarus of the media-buying company TN Media in New York agreed that NBC and the NBA, which gets a portion of ad revenues, aren't cheering the Lakers' performance.

There's a double whammy with the kind of blowout victories the Lakers have scored: There are not only fewer games, but lopsided, less exciting ones - and that means smaller audiences.

"A lot of viewers who are not regular-season viewers are there to watch a competitive game," Lazarus said.

A case in point was Game 3 between the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers, which was close until the middle of the third quarter and ended with the Lakers winning 111-72. The NBC broadcast averaged 8.89 million viewers, down 15 percent from last year's comparable Lakers-Trail Blazers game.

The playoffs so far, compared to the same period last year, are down 8 percent in viewership, NBC said Thursday.

Ratings for TNT and TBS, which aired weekday games during the early rounds, were off 18 percent compared to last year's playoffs.

"Basically, when they're always winning, what's there to get excited about?" asked Bill Parent, an assistant dean at UCLA and fervent basketball fan. "You pretty much know what's going to happen, so you channel surf a little. See what else is on."

Ahead is the championship round between the Lakers and the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Philadelphia 76ers matchup. The 76ers lead the series 3-2, with the sixth game set for Friday night.

"The big issue with the NBA right now is the fine line between building a high visibility franchise, which Kobe (Bryant) and Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) are in the midst of, versus one that is so dominant it's not competitive," Lazarus said.

While ratings sink, the fees paid by networks for broadcast rights are rising, compounding their financial trouble, Lazarus said.

"Advertisers don't care that they have escalating fees. That's not our problem. We're going to pay what the (broadcast) is worth," he said.

There could be one positive influence for NBC and the NBA. If the Lakers keep winning, viewers might tune in to see if they run the table, said Carter of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group.

NBC is keeping that in mind, sounding an optimistic tone as it keeps its eye on the Lakers.

"It's an interesting debate because people love to watch history being made and watch dynasties developing. ... A perfect postseason has never been done before," network spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard said.

"On the other hand, you also want to see a long, competitive series and you want to see that drama build over five, six, seven games," she said. "But it's sports; you don't know what's going to happen."