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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Latest Steph vs. LeBron Clash Could Help Sell The NBA’s Future

  • The perfect hoops storm comes at a crucial time for the NBA, which will begin negotiating a new cycle of long-term media rights next year.
  • The league seeks to to double or even triple its overall payout to the $50 billion to $75 billion range, said sources.
Steph Curry and LeBron James
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA and its broadcast partners couldn’t have asked for a better postseason matchup than LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry.

Between them, the two future Hall of Famers boast eight NBA titles, six MVP Awards, and 28 All-Star appearances.

The Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors marks the duo’s first playoff meeting in five years, reigniting an epic postseason rivalry that saw their Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers battle each other in four straight Finals before an average audience of 19.4 million. 

Curry’s Dubs took three of those four Finals, but King James led one of the great sports comebacks in history in 2016, as his Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit to win their first NBA title. 

The latest perfect hoops storm is hitting at a crucial time for the NBA, which will begin negotiating a new cycle of long-term media rights next year. The current nine-year, $24 billion media rights deals with The Walt Disney Co’s ESPN/ABC and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ TNT will expire after the 2024-2025 season. 

With the league and the National Basketball Players Association recently agreeing on a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement, the former seeks to to double or even triple its overall payout to the $50 billion to $75 billion range, said sources. 

The latest matchup between the thirtysomething superstars is still the best possible sales pitch for the Association, especially if they can stretch the series to seven games. 

The ratings blockbuster could also be the perfect parting gift from two NBA superstars in the twilight of their careers.

Spring Ratings In Bloom

The Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid dunks on the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Semis. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Play-In Tournament enabled James’ Lakers to turn around a dismal season, the NBA has been on a hot streak — but things weren’t looking so good a few months ago.

The league’s 2022-23 regular season was one of the least-watched in the past 30 years, according to Sports Media Watch. Game telecasts averaged 1.59 million viewers, down from 1.61 million last season. 

Perhaps most embarrassingly, the annual All-Star Game plunged to its worst-ever TV viewership. The telecast of what Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone called the “worst basketball game ever played” averaged 4.6 million viewers, down 27% from last year.

But the best players from the most famous teams in the largest TV markets are converging in the most wide-open postseason in years, and it translated to massive first-round numbers.

Steph Curry delivers record NBA ratings.

NBA Scores Most-Watched First-Round Game In 24 Years

Game 7 of Warriors vs. Kings drew nearly 10 million viewers.
May 2, 2023

The first round Game 7 between the Warriors and upstart Sacramento Kings pulled nearly 10 million viewers on ABC — the league’s most-watched first-rounder in 24 years and ABC’s largest audience ever for a non-Finals telecast.

The NBA delivered its most-watched first round in 9 years, averaging 3.4 million viewers over 43 game telecasts, up 15% from last year. 

ESPN/ABC earned its most-watched first round ever at 4.5 million viewers (+18%). TNT snagged its most-watched in five years with 3.5 million viewers (+6%). 

Despite its 10 p.m. ET tipoff, TNT’s Game 1 Lakers-Warriors telecast averaged 7.4 million viewers — the largest cable audience for a first- or second-round playoff game in 11 years. Thursday’s 27-point blowout Warriors win not only matched that number, but became Disney’s most-watched conference semi Game 2 ever.

Negotiating Season

NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN and TNT have both publicly said they plan to defend their decades-long relationships with the NBA. 

But if the two incumbent cable networks can’t seal the deal in their exclusive negotiating window next spring, broadcast networks like NBC Sports (the league’s former media partner), Fox Sports and CBS Sports — and potentially streaming giants Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Google/YouTube — will get to jump in.

Hosts of Inside the NBA on TNT

Will TNT Walk Away From The NBA?

Thoughts ahead of the league’s next round of media rights negotiations.
December 10, 2022

The NBA wants to split off a separate streaming package similar to the NFL’s $1 billion per-year deal with Amazon Prime Video for “Thursday Night Football,” said sources.

With cord-cutting rampant, a return to free, over-the-air broadcast television at NBC is increasingly appealing to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Brian Roberts, chief executive officer of NBCUniversal Comcast Corp., would like nothing better than to snatch the NBA from longtime rival Bob Iger at Disney, said sources.

Hollywood Ending

New York Jets QB Aaron Rodgers talks to Spike Lee while rapper Jack Harlow watches on during Game 1 of the Eastern Semis. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The second round is of course bigger than just James and Curry: The Nuggets’ two-time MVP Nikola Jokic against former MVP Kevin Durant and the Suns, plus 2022-23 MVP Joel Embiid battling the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And the Lakers or Celtics could set the all-time record with 18 championships should either win the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Meanwhile, the NBA Playoffs always feels bigger when the Knicks advance in the postseason. Love them, hate them, or ignore them, they still dominate the nation’s largest TV market, and they’re taking on a Miami Heat team that became the first Play-In participant to win a round by upsetting the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks.

The Knicks-Heat matchup brings back memories of the four bruising series between the playoff rivals from 1997-2000. (Who can forget the sight of Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy clinging to Heat center Alonzo Mourning’s leg in an on-court brawl?)

Suddenly the Association is the hottest ticket in town again. 

With an average purchase price of $726, tickets for Game 1 were the most expensive ever outside the NBA Finals, according to TickPick.

Would The NBA Embrace Streaming for $100B?

The next wave of media rights will be incredibly lucrative.
October 15, 2022

A-Listers ranging from Aaron Rodgers and Carmelo Anthony to Spike Lee, Jessica Alba and Jack Nicholson are flocking to NBA Playoff games at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena.  

After joining the New York Jets, Rodgers has become a staple courtside at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

“The NBA is better when the stars are playing. Having the Lakers in it, and the Knicks in it, and obviously the Golden State Warriors playing so good, is great for the NBA and obviously great for the ratings,” Rodgers said this week on Pat McAfee’s show. “I can’t wait to see this seven-game series with L.A. and Golden State. It’s going to be pretty awesome.”

ESPN analyst Monica McNutt, who rushed home Tuesday night from covering the Knicks-Heat game just to watch the second half of Lakers-Warriors Game 1, feels the latter series is too good to be wasted on a conference semifinal.

“I feel gifted — and robbed — all at the same time,” McNutt told Front Office Sports. “This clash is happening almost too soon in the playoffs.”

Maybe, but for the NBA, it definitely feels like the right time.

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