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Scott D. Pierce: Ratings for Jazz games are skyrocketing

Published December 28, 2010 8:00 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Are local Jazz fans of the fair-weather variety? Are they jumping on the bandwagon because the team is good?

The local TV ratings might be an indication of that. Considerably more people are watching games on FSN-Utah this season.

Except that ratings have been up since the season began. And the increase is way out of proportion with the increased number of wins.

Through Dec. 22, the ratings for Jazz games on FSN-Utah are up a whopping 50 percent. The team's winning percentage is up 13 percent from a year ago through 30 games. (That's 21-9 vs. 17-13 last season.)

"People are excited about this team," said Chris Baum, the Jazz's senior vice president of broadcasting. "The numbers have been good from the beginning of the season."

A year ago, the Jazz were averaging a 4.2 rating and a 7.9 share. This season, those numbers have risen to 6.3/12.

(A rating point represents 1 percent of the 944,060 households Nielsen estimates are in the Salt Lake television market, which includes all of Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming; a share point is 1 percent of the households where someone is watching TV at a particular time.)

Not surprisingly, the Jazz-Lakers matchup on Nov. 26 -- a 102-96 win for Utah -- was the highest-rated game to date, pulling a 9.8 rating.

"We've already had three games over a 9 rating," said Baum. "We only had three total for all of last season. There's a lot of interest in the team this season."

Utah is not unique in terms of television ratings. Overall NBA ratings on TNT and ESPN are up 30 percent over last season.

Clearly, the biggest factor behind that is interest in the Miami Heat; ratings for Heat games on ESPN are up 69 percent. But even if you exclude those games, ESPN's NBA numbers are still up 23 percent.

Utah made some changes to its lineup this season, but nothing on the magnitude of LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in Miami. Unless you consider Al Jefferson and Raja Bell the Utah equivalent of James and Bosh.

And yet Utah is one of the top three NBA markets in terms of local TV ratings increases.

(The NBA has confirmed that to the Jazz. But it won't tell them if they're first, second or third on that list. Or what the other two teams are. Because, apparently, it's some sort of secret. Weird.)

Obviously, the folks at FSN-Utah are pleased with the numbers this season.

"It's great," said spokeswoman Amy Turner. "Year in and year out, clearly the fan base in Utah supports that team."

This is the final season Jazz games will be seen on FSN-Utah, however. Because the channel is renaming itself ROOT Sports in the spring.

The new name is definitely an improvement over Fox Sports Net-Utah or -Rocky Mountain. Particularly because the channel hasn't belonged to Fox in almost three years.

FSN-Rocky Mountain/Utah -- along with the FSN-Pittsburgh and FSN-Northwest -- are subsidiaries of DirecTV. All three will be known simply as ROOT Sports.

Programming will remain largely the same. ROOT will still have relationship with FSN and will carry national college packages. Look for new graphics in the fall of 2011 and a few programming changes, but not a lot will be different.

"The key is -- it's going to be a new brand, but it's still where you're going to see all your Jazz games," Turner said.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His column on sports on TV appears Wednesday. Contact him at spierce@sltrib.com.