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Monday, July 15, 2024

NBA Agrees to $76 Billion in Media-Rights Deals, but TNT Still Looms

  • The NBA has finalized its long-rumored media deals, ‘The Athletic’ reported Wednesday.
  • TNT has not made its final decision about how to handle the reported deals.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, “Roundball Rock.” Farewell, Inside the NBA?

The NBA has agreed to long-rumored media-rights deals with NBC, Amazon, and ESPN, The Athletic reported Wednesday.

The deals cover 11 years and are worth $76 billion in total, as has long been reported. According to The Athletic, though, TNT Sports may still try to use contractual language to keep its rights. At the Sun Valley Conference in Idaho, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav told reporters, “We have a matching right.” The Athletic wrote, “If Zaslav goes through with that, he is expected to target Amazon’s package.”

Right now, though, sources have told Front Office Sports that TNT has no contacts in front of it to match yet. At that point, Zaslav’s TNT will have roughly five days to match one of the offers—or wave the NBA goodbye after a 40-year relationship.

The new deals represent an enormous increase from the league’s agreements, which paid $2.7 billion annually. Starting in 2025–26, the league will broadcast games across ESPN—the lone incumbent outlet to retain its rights—along with NBC and Amazon, the latter of which is a streaming deal. 

If the agreement does go through, TNT’s beloved Inside the NBA could be in jeopardy. Charles Barkley, the show’s star, has claimed he will retire with the rights up in the air.

When the deals are finally complete—The Athletic reports that if TNT doesn’t exercise it rights, the deals could be formally announced before the Olympics begin July 26—Adam Silver will turn his attention toward expansion. Las Vegas and Seattle are long rumored to be markets on Silver’s radar. The enormous influx of revenue—more than double the previous agreement—will also benefit players, who receive 51% of basketball-related revenue per the collective bargaining agreement. The Athletic’s projections have the maximum salary passing $100 million annually by the beginning of the next decade.

A Quote That Will Live in Infamy

The reported deals come two years after Zaslav infamously said, “We don’t have to have the NBA.” Zaslav has since walked back the comments, but it will be another line on a résumé mostly marked by consistent cost-cutting

Charles Barkley, TNT’s biggest star, blasted Zaslav for his handling of the situation. He recently suggested that his production company could simply hire the cast of Inside and sell the show back to NBC or Amazon.

If Barkley doesn’t retire, he has a clause in his contract allowing him to test the market should WBD lose the NBA and will have a slew of suitors, while Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith could also have options elsewhere. Longtime host Ernie Johnson has deep ties to TNT, including his father, Ernie Sr., who also worked for the network, and would be the hardest to lure elsewhere; he may be contractually tied to WBD.

NBC’s parent company, NBCUniversal, paid a pretty penny to reunite the network with the league, with a reported offer of $2.5 billion per year. NBC had the league’s premier package from 1990 to 2002, broadcasting Michael Jordan’s entire championship run with the Bulls. NBC has long been rumored to want back in on the NBA and has two natural broadcasters to assume the reins in Mike Tirico and Noah Eagle.

What Now for the WNBA?

The WNBA would also like to double its previous deal. Previous FOS reporting suggested that the WNBA could break off from the NBA and negotiate its own deal, but at the league’s draft in April, commissioner Cathy Engelbert kept her cards close to the vest.

“I think as you look at streamers who have a subscription model, the WNBA gives the NBA longer programming across the year,” Engelbert said. “I think Adam uses the quote of 320 [days]. … I actually think it’s more days. And there’s no other set of two sports leagues that can offer that live programming and sports to a streamer like that. I would say probably in that case we need the NBA because we have a smaller footprint with only 40 games, and it’s nice to go to market together.”

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