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Friday, June 14, 2024

Buzzer Beater? TNT Is Negotiating for Fourth NBA Rights Package

  • WBD is in negotiations to secure a possible fourth media-rights package, sources tell ‘Front Office Sports.’
  • Last-ditch bid could include regular-season and playoff games.
Mar 5, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; General view of the TNT court side broadcast table before a game between the Phoenix Suns against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready for another plot twist in the multibillion-dollar NBA media-rights negotiations.

Warner Bros. Discovery is in negotiations to secure a possible fourth media-rights package, sources with knowledge of the negotiations tell Front Office Sports.

Speculation in recent months has TNT being elbowed out of the NBA TV/streaming game in favor of three rights partners: incumbent ESPN, former TV partner NBC, and Amazon Prime Video. 

That could still happen. But it’s not over until it’s over. Sources tell me TNT is still at the table for a smaller, less-expensive fourth package that could include regular-season and some playoff games. Another scenario? For the NBA to slice off a package of locally televised games from teams and turn them into national games for TNT, according to Puck.

Carving out a smaller package for TNT could be a savvy, face-saving strategy for both the Association and WBD. From the NBA’s perspective, it would maintain the former Turner Sports’ iconic 40-year relationship with the NBA. Does the NBA want to completely cut ties with a media partner that’s done such an exemplary job for decades?

TNT also operates NBA TV and NBA.com on behalf of the league. Unwinding that relationship would be a messy and expensive undertaking. In today’s hyper-competitive market for live sports rights, doubling the number of NBA media partners to four would be significant. Just ask the NFL, which keeps adding new partners like Netflix and Amazon.

Sports media consultant Jim Williams notes a fourth package would enable the NBA to televise/stream its live games across Disney’s ABC/ESPN/ESPN+; NBCUniversal’s NBC/USA/Peacock; and WBD’s TNT/Max. “It’s the perfect solution. They have the inventory to do it and it’s yet another billion-dollar deal,” Williams says. “I have no idea why they haven’t done it already. It makes all the sense in the world.”

Additionally, for TNT, a smaller, cheaper package could ensure the survival of Charles Barkley’s Emmy-winning Inside the NBA studio show. The 61-year-old Barkley says he wants to work less anyway. He’s been increasingly critical about the lack of direction from his bosses at TNT.

“Like, hey man, just tell us something. Everybody’s got an article coming out every day about ‘we’ve still got a chance’ or ‘we’ve lost it,’” Barkley told Mad Dog Sports Radio’s Beadle & Decker. “I’m like, ‘Yo, man, you guys see us every week, how ’bout picking up the phone, saying, ‘Hey, we still negotiating’ or ‘you know what, we’ve lost it.’ Just truth us. Because the one thing that really sucks, we gotta do this next year no matter what.”

WBD is still struggling with $40 billion in debt. Buying a smaller, cheaper package could enable chief executive officer David Zaslav to back up his words to Wall Street not to overpay for the NBA. It would help stave off a possible rebellion from cable operators who might not pay as much to carry TNT without NBA games.

Along with its long-shot bid for a fourth package, TNT still has the right to match offers from third-party bidders NBC and Prime. But at press time, there were still no official offers from NBA and Amazon for TNT to potentially match. The tip-off of tonight’s 2024 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks is likely to delay the process further. 

Yes, TNT could still be the odd man out. But If TNT matches offers and the NBA rejects them, then the whole shebang could end up in the courtroom via multiple lawsuits.

As former Fox Sports executive turned sports media consultant Patrick Crakes noted on X: “Yeah. Backend rights will do that to ya…Getting the four partner(s) feels here.”

The NBA’s current nine-year, $24 billion deals with TNT and ESPN run through the 2024–25 season. No matter what happens, the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver will end up as the winners. Despite a shaky economy, and a tightening market for sports rights, Silver NBA’s is poised to more than double, or possibly triple, its long-term media-rights windfall. As the Finals tip off, the league’s closing in on deals with ESPN, NBC, and Prime that could potentially pay up to $76 billion over 11 years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mike Drops

The Woj vs. Shams rivalry flared up again this week. On Tuesday, Shams Charania reported in The Athletic the Lakers were “zeroing” in on ESPN analyst JJ Redick as their next coach. Two days later, Adrian Wojnarowski reported for ESPN the Lakers were preparing a massive offer for UConn’s Dan Hurley. Which of the dueling NBA insiders will turn out to be right? We’ll see. … Jeff Bezos’s Amazon Prime is continuing its march across live sports, announcing a two-year deal with the NHL in Canada today to stream all regular-season Monday night games. The giant streamer will add the new Prime Monday Night Hockey to its growing collection of sports rights, including the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, New York Yankees games, NASCAR, Overtime Elite, and Premier Boxing Champions in the U.S. … In response to our Wednesday coverage of the ongoing NBA talks, FOS reader Aron Phillips wrote us: “I’m glad you finally spoke on NBA TV and NBA.com! To me, that’s been the biggest storyline not talked about with this whole thing. I can’t imagine NBC Sports or anyone else wanting to take that on in 2025. Heavy lift.”

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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