Baltimoreans are never afraid to buck trends and they certainly did that in watching Saturday's Preakness, but not in the way you might think.
While national viewership of the race was up substantially from last year, local ratings, though strong, were off from 1995.
ABC's 90-minute coverage of the Preakness drew a 3.3 rating and 9 share for the first 30 minutes, and a 5.0/13 for the final hour, according to Nielsen's overnight survey of the nation's 33 largest markets. That's up a combined 15 percent from last year, and added to the 23 percent boost ABC got for the Kentucky Derby, one might surmise that interest in horse racing is increasing.
Consider, then, that the Preakness did a 7.6/21 for its first 15 minutes on Channel 2, and a 13.7/32 for the rest of the program.
That easily won the time slot against golf on Channel 13, the first game of the Seattle-Utah NBA playoff series on Channel 11 and syndicated fare on channels 45 and 54, but was down sharply from a 12.9/38 and 16.8/43 in 1995.
Also, Channel 2's epic 8 1/2 -hour pre-race show -- an hour longer than last year -- was down from a 4.6/16 in 1995 to a 3.8/12, losing every quarter-hour but one to Channel 11's news and public affairs programming during the morning hours.
Calling it a career
CBS announced yesterday that it will air the final fight of former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes' career on June 16 from Atlantic City against Anthony Willis.
Though Holmes, who was champion for seven years, hinted that he might try to squeeze one more fight in before the June bout, he declared that the Willis fight will be the last of his 27-year career.
"There ain't too much I can accomplish besides winning the heavyweight title again and that's not going to happen because of all the political bull that's in boxing today," said Holmes, 46. "I don't think I'll ever get a chance."
Holmes, who has a 64-5 record with 41 knockouts and 49 straight wins at the start of his career, said he had wanted one last giant payday in a fight with fellow geezer George Foreman, but decided he was tired of waiting.
Holmes periodically has retired and returned to the ring, with most of his comeback fights airing on USA Network, where current CBS Sports vice president of programming Rob Correa had worked.
Holmes hinted that he was taking less money for the CBS fight than for USA fights for the chance at wider exposure and the chance to leave the ring with his faculties still intact.
"I'm fine today, but I want to stay that way. There's no more dollars to be made," said Holmes. "I climbed every mountain. I chopped down every tree, but the trees are getting younger and stronger."
The playoff scene
Yes, the NBA's playoff ratings are ahead of the NHL's, but is there anyone out there who has watched both this spring and thinks the basketball postseason has been more exciting?
Fox and ESPN have delivered hockey telecasts that sparkled with the electricity of the sport, and NBC and Turner have been stuck with largely desultory games.
And while we hate to beat a dead horse, the NBA's scheduling, done with NBC's full complicity, has something to do with it.
On two of the past three Saturdays, a Western team was forced to start a series less than 48 hours after finishing another, just so NBC could have a rested Chicago Bulls team on in a prime Sunday slot. And on both Saturdays, the Western team, first Houston and then Utah, was clobbered.
And, by the way, when are we going to see NBC explore the ever-deteriorating relationship between players and referees? Last year's Most Valuable Player, David Robinson, hardly a rogue, has leveled charges against a man in gray, ESPN already has tackled the subject twice, and TNT has addressed the subject, but NBC continues to roll on, either blissfully ignorant, or just unwilling to tackle the matter.
On the subject of the playoffs, WWLG (1360 AM) will air all games of the NBA's conference championships, and the league championship series through its deal with ESPN Radio. In addition, starting next Tuesday, the station will carry the Stanley Cup finals.
Because of the chance for interruptions, "Sports Showdown" hosts Mark Mussina and Spiro Morekas will be pre-empted for the next month, with One on One Network host Arnie Stanier airing in their slot, after games and on off-nights.
Extending the deal
NBC yesterday announced a two-tournament extension of its contract to cover the Solheim Cup, the women's version of the Ryder Cup international match-play tournament.
The 1994 tournament, won by the U.S. team in West Virginia, was carried by NBC and garnered ratings in the 2-3 range. The network will carry this year's matches from Wales in September and the 1998 competition from Dublin, Ohio.
Pub Date: 5/21/96