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The NFL struck a new 11-year, $100 billion TV deal with Disney, Amazon, NBC, CBS, and Fox last week. With that out of the way, sports business circles are turning their attention toward the NBA’s broadcast rights, which expire after the 2024-25 season. According to CNBC, the NBA will seek a $75 billion rights package, up from its current $24 billion deal.
Unlike the NFL, the NBA will have to do more than just name a price. Even if we disregard the record-low 2020 Finals held during the pandemic, broadcast NBA ratings are down an astounding 45% since 2012 and its cable trends are ugly. Younger NBA viewers are also increasingly consuming the league on social media, not in front of a TV screen. That said, an increase is still expected, even if it’s not by $50 billion.
Despite all the concerns regarding the NBA, the decline of linear TV has raised the value of live sports (see the NHL’s new deal with Disney).
As always, leverage will determine the final price, and the NBA will likely receive interest from suitors beyond Disney and AT&T, its current broadcast partners. Fox Sports was interested in landing the NBA before its last deal in 2014. NBC has an acclaimed history with the NBA. And, of course, Amazon’s move into the NFL sent a direct signal that streaming platforms — Amazon, ESPN+, Hulu, AppleTV+ — are here to play.
Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, however, isn’t expecting an exciting round of musical chairs. He predicts that the NBA will ultimately stay with its two current partners after talks conclude.
“I think the NBA will stay with the two network packages,” Pilson said. “That gives them the promotion base, and sometimes when you end up with lots of networks, people can’t find games when they’re on. College basketball is the best example — you want to see a game, and you don’t know where it is.”
Perhaps, but by 2025, a cable-heavy business model could be troubling, a problem Adam Silver spoke about two years ago:
“You’re really pushing a rock up a hill if you’ve lost 20 percent of your [cable] audience over the last four years, especially when…that young audience that we attract is disproportionately represented by that 20 percent,” Silver said.
Aside from a few games a week on ABC, much of the NBA regular season is distributed on cable via ESPN and Turner. Though the NBA is reportedly happy with both partners, it could find having more games on broadcast TV appealing. The league could expand its TV presence either by increasing the number of ABC broadcasts or adding a third partner.
For those asking, yes, the NBA also has a $1.5 billion streaming deal with Chinese-based company Tencent Holdings.
Early predictions are reckless, but I’ll go ahead and predict that the next NBA rights deal includes a strong presence of some sort on ESPN+, too. Book it.