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Nielsen Media Research is getting into a whole new ball game.

The company has launched a new division to handle pro sports leagues that consider themselves more akin to media companies than anything else.

Its first client is the National Basketball Association, which not only helps broadcast partners NBC and Turner Network Television sell ad time but produces and sells programming around the world through NBA Entertainment, Secaucus, N.J.

"By this agreement, Nielsen has literally broken the mold in how we deal with the unique needs of modern sports and entertainment organizations such as the NBA," said Exec VP Robert Taragan in a statement.

No word on which sports league will be next to sign up with Nielsen, but it's likely the leagues that will follow will be the ones that also assist their network partners in ad sales-notably the National Hockey League, with Fox and ESPN, and Major League Baseball, through its Baseball Network venture with ABC and NBC.

Like any other Nielsen client, the NBA previously had to deal with separate Nielsen divisions-broadcast, cable, syndication, even new media-and subscribed to a myriad of Nielsen products to get ratings and demographic info. Now, all that data will be compiled into one product and disseminated in a timely fashion.

Moreover, Nielsen's New York-based Sports Marketing Service will be able to create customized products for the NBA and its future sports clients.

"The bottom line is the way Nielsen was set up didn't jibe with how our business operates, given the variety of different media we are involved in," said Ed Desser, president of NBA Television Ventures. "Now we can better analyze data. It's all on one piece of paper."

The Sports Marketing Service was born of Nielsen's Local Market Sports Report, which to date serves 12 NBA teams, more than 40 ad and media buying agencies, Fox, ESPN, and a host of TV stations and regional sports networks.

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