NBA commish David Stern suggested recently on HBO’s "On the Record with Bob Costas" that the league may "decide to revisit" its decision to limit conference finals to cable. The thinking? Broadcast might be a better place than cable to promote the championship. But the idea may be self-defeating. ESPN and TNT have enjoyed robust ratings throughout the entire campaign. Bristol’s gained 8% more eyeballs vs last year, and TNT rose 17%. But this year’s slack All-Star Game turnout—TNT scored a 5.1, off 23% from last season—has Stern second guessing cable’s ability to market marquee events as effectively as the broadcast nets. Of course, the ’03 All-Star game was a tough act to follow. "The 1st year we carried the All-Star Game coincided with Michael Jordan’s farewell tour," Turner Sports’ Jeff Pomeroy says. "Realistically speaking, there’s no way we could expect to see those kind of numbers again this year." If a switch is imminent, it likely won’t be drastic. When Costas pressed Stern as to whether the league would consider returning the conference finals to broadcast, Stern said the NBA had "begun discussions with Disney" about increasing the number of over-the-air games, but said only "a…game or 2" might be relegated to broadcast, "based upon its ability to deliver ratings to ABC." — ESPN and TNT remain ardent in their appreciation of the NBA, and neither wants to chip away at its schedule. ESPN likes to credit pro hoops as a crucial ratings driver, causally linking its NBA coverage to its 9 straight quarters of growth. "We got great ratings this year with the conference finals and now broadcast is benefiting from a great series as well," ESPN says. "Everyone is winning."

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