IS THE NBA and its television partners starting to panic over the disappointing ratings and attendance numbers being produced this year?
Well, perhaps panic is too strong a word but the parties are certainly starting to show some deep concern.
NBC and league are said to be talking about spicing up game broadcasts by having referees wear microphones during the games to capture the sometimes insightful, sometimes funny comments by and among the refs and between the whistle blowers and players and coaches.
NBC Sports, which refused to comment on the reports, would love to add some sparkle to its telecasts to help reverse some of the bad news surrounding the game so far this season.
Bad news like the 6 percent decline in ratings being experienced by Turner Sports for far this season -- 1.6 vs. 1.7 -- compared to last season's full season average. While some would say Turner's numbers last season were unusually high because it didn't have its lower-rated early season games to drag down the full season average, thanks to the lockout, the low numbers aren't the only symptom.
The league is also battling lackluster interest at the gate, where attendance is about flat with last year. This despite six teams, or 20 percent of the NBA, playing in new arenas and posting very solid attendance gains.
The weakness at the gate has caused NBA commissioner David Stern to question whether some teams have lost the marketing fire in the belly. Stern remains confident the attendance numbers will firm up.
NBC's hoop season started yesterday with a doubleheader and the referee issue wasn't expected to be settled by gametime and the refs were expected to be their mute self. But the two sides are still talking and the interesting twist aimed at spicing up ratings and fan interest could be seen later in the season.
One new addition to NBC's telecast you will see will be player interviews in the 30-second window after the first half.
THERE HAVE been dozens of all-millennium lists blowing around the sports world the past few months, from the greatest athlete to the greatest sports executive to the greatest team of the millennium. But none is more inventive or more likely to spark bar-room discussions than Brandon Steiner's all-millennium, all-impact sport marketing team.
The sports collectible guru has the usual suspects on the list, of course, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth and Arnold Palmer. But Steiner also includes some inspired choices like Bob Ueker, who has done so much with so little, and Johnny Weismuller, the record-setting swimmer who went on to star in 18 Tarzan movies and endorse BVD underwear as well.
Yogi Berra makes Steiner's list, not only because of his Yogisms but because of his Yoo-Hoo past, Miller Lite sports and his almost 50 years of success. Along with Woods as part of the next generation, Steiner lists Mia Hamm.
JOE MONTANA is returning to the football wars. Not as a quarterback, mind you, but as the power behind a new football magazine to debut next month. The sure bet Hall of Famer will act as editor-in-chief of Joe Montana's In the Red Zone, a magazine billed as "the ultimate football/lifestyle magazine."
Montana will focus each issue on football, fashion, fitness, travel, cheerleaders and gadgets. Or at least that's what they are telling future advertisers. Interestingly, no Internet segment of the project has yet surfaced.
THE U.S. Postal Service is arguing that the picture on its new stamp honoring the San Francisco 49ers as the team of the Eighties, to be unveiled Jan. 16, does not feature Jerry Rice. You have to be dead to get on a stamp, it seems, and Postal execs want it known they are not bending a rule.