CBS can toot its Daytona horn after a solid showing in ratings

CBS apparently joined Dale Jarrett on the Daytona 500 victory stand with a solid ratings winner for Sunday's race.

The race pulled in a 6.5 overnight rating among the 33 largest markets that are meter-measured by Nielsen, with a 16 share of the audience, a 5 percent boost from last year.


CBS officials say the 1996 rating is the second highest they've pulled in for Daytona in a non-Winter Olympics year, when viewer levels are higher.

They expect that when the entire country is factored in for the national ratings due out later in the week, the rating may climb near an 8, a very solid number in these days of fragmented programming.


Analyzing the Terps

It didn't take Deep Blue, the IBM-programmed chess-playing computer, to figure out that the loss of Joe Smith was going to hurt the Maryland men's basketball team this season.

But in the mind of Dick Vitale, college basketball's high priest, a second, unexpected player loss has cost Maryland.

"In fairness to Gary [Williams, Maryland coach], he didn't just lose Joe Smith, he lost Exree Hipp," Vitale said before Sunday's Maryland-Missouri game at Cole Field House.

"That has been the major disappointment here. If [Hipp] plays anywhere to what his ability was last year, and gets 15 [points] bTC every night and seven rebounds every night, this club's in great shape."

Vitale said the Terps, who got an essential nonconference win over the Tigers on Sunday, can get into the NCAA tournament.

"They're sitting on the bubble, but in their favor is that four of their last six games are here, and they're tough to beat at home," said Vitale. "If they go out and win their three ACC games at home, they'll be 8-8 in the conference. That puts them at 16 wins going into the [ACC] tournament, and if you win one in the tournament, they're in."

Of course, beating Deep Blue might not hurt, either.


Batter up, ESPN style

Armed with a share of the postseason for the first time, ESPN has announced its Sunday night baseball schedule, as well as portions of its Wednesday doubleheader slates and its plans for Opening Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The network, which will carry 85 regular-season contests, will kick off its 26-game Sunday schedule with a 9 p.m. March 31 telecast of a game between the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners. The Yankees-Cleveland game and the Boston-Texas contest form the ESPN Opening Day doubleheader April 1.

The Orioles will make two Sunday appearances, on June 16 at Kansas City and against Boston at Camden Yards on July 7, and their game against the Red Sox on Independence Day will lead off a tripleheader.

Getting their kicks

At the core of ABC/ESPN's announcement earlier this month to televise all 64 games of the 1998 World Cup soccer tournament is a gamble that the long-predicted boom in soccer interest in the United States is coming.


The key to that gamble is the fate of Major League Soccer, the most ambitious try at a U.S. professional outdoor league since the North American Soccer League, which rose in the mid-1970s, but withered away not long after.

However, unlike the NASL, which depended heavily on foreign stars such as Pele and Johann Cruyff to draw fans, the new MLS -- formed in the wake of the United States playing host to the 1994 World Cup -- will draw on the growing pool of American soccer stars such as Carlos Reyna to build the public's acceptance to the heretofore ignored sport.

"We now are beginning to be able to score goals in international play and even in open play," said ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson. "There's some momentum for it [soccer] and it would be great if it could be sustained [through MLS]."

ABC will air the MLS title game Oct. 20, and its cable subsidiaries, ESPN and ESPN2, will telecast up to 36 regular-season and playoff games.