FOR MARKETERS, TIME TO SPEAK

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Two of the outstanding success stories of modern sports marketing, the international Olympics movement and the National Basketball Association, are a little less imposing today. If they are wise, the International Olympics Committee and the NBA in their rebuilding efforts will welcome advice from their marketing partners -- even if it's painful.

Olympics sponsor John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. has called for an expanded investigation of bribery by cities seeking to be named the sites for the Games. John Hancock's president, David D'Allesandro, warned that stopping with the allegations raised about Salt Lake City's selection as the site for the 2002 Winter Games would shake his company's commitment to be a sponsor, out of fear there would be new scandals at IOC waiting to be uncovered.

Those are harsh words, but they need to be spoken and they need to come from corporate sponsors. They should have access to top leaders in the Olympics movement and use it to help protect its integrity.

The NBA, luckily, faces no issues of corruption, just lingering issues of greed and arrogance. Having squandered half a season and untold amounts of goodwill, and upended many marketers' ad plans, it faces a future without its No. 1 attraction, Michael Jordan, just when his star presence might have salvaged the rump season ahead. It's true the NBA has helped make a lot of money for marketers, but the lockout has dimmed that magic. As NBA Commissioner David Stern and team owners start over, NBA sponsors would do the league a favor by saying -- plainly -- what they think needs to be done.

Time to pay

The tv audience ratings go-round is getting a bit wearing. It seems every other month there's a new proposal floated to solve perceived problems with Nielsen Media Research. Now there is a good new idea, this one from Nielsen. But, like the others, it costs money. And, like the others, it looks doomed unless TV ad sellers and buyers are willing to pay. It's hard to be optimistic.

Nielsen is urging the TV industry to use people meters instead of diaries to collect data for local ratings. Earlier ideas called for creating a competitor to Nielsen, Smart TV, that would offer a better product. Less costly would be adoption of a CBS proposal to spread the month-long quarterly sweeps that determine local ratings over a longer period to reduce the impact of programming stunts that distort viewing patterns. The list keeps growing, but the issue appears to be action-proof.

As we reported last week, those who have studied the new Nielsen proposal to expand the use of people meters -- an electronic device that's already the foundation of Nielsen's national TV ratings -- say the benefits of using the system for local monitoring far outweigh the drawbacks that now keep TV stations from accepting the change. Those benefits are too numerous to recite, but one alone causes us to say "just do it."

The people meters would seem to, once and for all, put an end to the sensational fare and overhyped specials that stations and networks schedule -- even on evening news programs -- just to attract viewers in sweeps weeks. That leaves media buyers trying to adjust what everyone knows is distorted data to avoid having clients pay for more than they realistically will get.

Early last year, we urged all elements of the industry to embrace the CBS plan for a longer period of diary data for the sweeps, and that was just a stopgap -- a bandage on a open wound. This latest Nielsen proposal looks like it would provide the suture. So the most-used ad medium should step up and pay the

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