LeBron Lifts Ratings in Ohio

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When executives at UPN affiliate WUAB-TV Cleveland were negotiating a new rights deal for Cleveland Cavaliers basketball last year, they sought a four-year hitch "to match LeBron James's contract," says station Research Director Todd Galloway. They got it, with an option for a fifth. They also got double their ratings estimates for ad sales in the games.

James, of course, is the NBA's newest star, maybe the "next Michael Jordan." While the Cavaliers still have been struggling, with 11 wins and 26 losses as of last Tuesday, James has delivered big time for WUAB-TV and Fox Sports Net Ohio, which share the local rights.

Through 15 broadcasts of the Cavaliers' 30-game lineup on WUAB-TV, the contests have averaged a 6.2 rating/11 share. Last year at this time, they were pulling a 1.7/3. James's first game in a Cavs jersey grabbed a 7.3/16, and that one the station had to share with ESPN, which was also covering his debut. Together, the two airings did a whopping 12.2/27 in the market.

Even more important for WUAB-TV is that, in the key 25-54 demo, the station hit its sales target of a 100% increase in ratings. "We were selling a 4," says Galloway, "and we hit a 4.4, 4.5." The demos altogether averaged about a 100% increase.

Though Galloway concedes that there has been little halo effect for other parts of the schedule.

Fox Sports Net Ohio has become a big LeBron fan as well. At this time last year, the games on the net were averaging a 1.3. Fifteen games into the new season, that number is a 4.3, a 229% increase.

That local interest has not yet been matched by big national numbers for TNT, which is averaging a 1.7 for the three Cavs games it has aired so far, including a 2 rating for the Cavs-Los Angeles Lakers contest Jan. 12. That's 6% above TNT's 1.6 season average, which itself is up 32% over last season's 1.2 average for the first 22 games of the season.