Remember the conspiracy theory, dating back only a couple of years, that the Utah Jazz would never get a fair shake from NBC television? The thinking was that the national television network couldn't afford to have the small-market Jazz on the air more than about once or twice a season, because Utah didn't draw big enough ratings.
But after back-to-back, highly watched NBA Finals appearances, the Jazz are now NBC darlings. Utah will appear on NBC 11 times during the coming regular season and a dozen more times on either TNT or TBS national cable broadcasts, according to an announcement of the 1998-99 schedule Thursday. Success has its price, however. It will cost Jazz fans more to watch the two-time defending Western Conference champs in the Delta Center, as ticket prices are on the rise yet again.All this, of course, is assuming there is a '98-99 season, an iffy proposition right now considering that the NBA is in the middle of a three-week-old, owner-instigated lockout. The labor dispute has both the owners and the players appearing ready to sacrifice games, if need be, to make their point at the bargaining table. The NBA office in New York announced the schedule "in the event that the NBA is able to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with he NBPA (players' union) in a timely fashion."
Jazz season ticket-holders started receiving information on renewing their tickets late last week, and their first payments are due in early August.
"We're set up in the ticket office as if it's business as usual," said Jazz director of ticket sales Jim Olson. "We have to be working as if everything is normal so that when there is a settlement (to the labor dispute), we'll be ready to go."
If games are canceled, Jazz fans who have tickets to unplayed games will not just be out of luck, insists Jay Francis, Jazz vice president of marketing.
"We're not planning on missing any games," Francis said, "but if it happens, we'll take care of our season ticket-holders."
Not surprisingly, ticket prices are up again. Face value for the highest reaches of the Delta Center, $10 tickets last year, are now $11 per game. Tickets that were $68 each in the lower bowl last season are now $75. Front row tickets now have a $280 face value - even for the Grizzlies and Clippers.
Raising ticket prices "is a tough pill to swallow," said Francis. "We're trying to be sensitive to the individual fan. It's not something we have a cavalier attitude about or do without thinking what it means to our fan base. But to keep pace in the NBA and field a competitive team on the floor, we had to do it. We didn't have a choice."
If the labor dispute is settled, the Jazz will open the season at home Nov. 3 against the Vancouver Grizzlies, who've never beaten Utah in 12 tries. The Jazz play five of the next six on the road before a seasonlong six-game homestand.
The world champion Chicago Bulls - with or without Michael Jordan - are scheduled to make their lone visit to the Delta Center on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, at the end of that stretch.
Utah will also have its usual pre-Christmas trip. The Jazz will play five road games in one week from Dec. 16-23. There is no Christmas Day game this year, but the Jazz will be on national TV prior to the Super Bowl once again. Last year they played the Bulls on Super Bowl Sunday. This year the Jazz will face the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
The Jazz generally play NBC games on the road, in large part because of their reluctance to schedule home games on Sunday during the regular season. This season, however, the Jazz will have three Saturday home games televised by NBC. Their other eight appearances on NBC will be Sunday road outings.
The late season is road-heavy as 13 of the final 20 games will be outside the Delta Center.