TNT, TBS, NBC to add Jordan's games
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rip up those NBA TV schedules. Michael Jordan is coming back, again, and the league's broadcasters couldn't be happier.
Both NBC and Turner Sports will juggle their lineups to add games with the Washington Wizards, the team with which Jordan will sign a two-year contract.
"We'll work with the league to expose Michael Jordan to the world," Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus said Tuesday.
"He's one of -- if not THE -- greatest ever players to play. He's a proven marketing success for us and the league."
Indeed, the NBA's television ratings blossomed during Jordan's career and have plummeted since he quit in January 1999, after leading the Chicago Bulls to their sixth title in eight years.
An intriguing sidelight to his return: The NBA's four-year, $2.64 billion deals with NBC and Turner expire after this season. Those networks' exclusive negotiating windows for new packages are open until mid-October.
One of Turner's networks, TBS, is in line to air the first game of Jordan's comeback, on Oct. 30 against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. That's a Tuesday, the day TBS airs NBA games. TNT gets first crack at Wednesday and Thursday games.
Other than the doubleheader it has lined up on Christmas, a Tuesday, all of NBC's games are on Saturdays or Sundays.
"Any possible scheduling changes will be considered and discussed with the NBA in the next week to 10 days," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.
"We're excited that Michael is returning."
Under the current schedule, the Wizards (19-63 last season) are slated for no games on NBC, and one on Turner -- on Nov. 28 against Philadelphia. That's sure to change, with NBC allowed to show up to 11 of a team's games, and Turner able to put a team on 15 times.
Among the possibilities that could be raised as NBC and league officials sit down: adding games before the current Dec. 25 start to that network's NBA package.
With no one sure, though, of how Jordan -- who turns 39 in February -- will perform or if he will get injured, the networks aren't rushing to announce which of Washington's games will be added to the schedule. The NBA needs to approve any switches, which probably will be decided over the course of the season.
"Any revisions would be made on a month-to-month basis," NBC Sports vice president Kevin Sullivan said.
When Magic Johnson came out of retirement to play for the Lakers in January 1996, he announced his comeback on a Sunday, and TNT added the team's games that Tuesday and Friday to the schedule.
When Jordan returned from his earlier retirement, his first game back -- Chicago's 103-96 overtime loss to Indiana on March 19, 1995 -- was watched on NBC by 35 million people, the largest audience ever for a regular-season NBA game.
His Oct. 30 return coincides with Game 3 of the World Series on Fox.
"You can't control what your competition's going to be. It will be an interesting night for sports viewers, that's for sure," Fox Sports director of communications Dan Bell said. "The World Series is one of sports' premier events and we have tremendous confidence in its ability to attract a substantial audience, whether Michael Jordan is playing or not.'
NBC's regular-season ratings were down 12 percent this year from 2000, following declines of more than 20 percent each of the prior two seasons.
While Jordan is certain to bring viewers back to the league, most of the advertising dollars the networks rely on to pay for their rights deals are made in the postseason.
"It's a little difficult to project what this decision will mean in the current network TV negotiations," said former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, a consultant. "It certainly will give everyone in the room a greater degree of confidence in the NBA, but 75 percent of the rights fees are really attributable to the playoffs. And I'm not sure Washington or Jordan is going to get to the playoffs this year."