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Sunday, June 16, 2024

NBA Media Rights: Questions Mount As Billion-Dollar Deals Loom

  • The league still hasn’t announced anything official.
  • Reports agree that ESPN, Amazon, and NBC have won out over TNT.
Alexis Reau/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, about an hour before the Celtics and Mavericks tip off the NBA Finals, commissioner Adam Silver (above) will have to address the elephant in the room at his annual press conference ahead of the championship series: The league hasn’t announced its next set of media-rights deals, but everyone seems to already know what’s coming.

ESPN, NBC, and Amazon are set to carry NBA game broadcasts from 2025 until ’36, with TNT ending a 36-year run with the league after next season. That’s been the case since before Memorial Day. A report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said the NBA is “closing in on deals” that would be worth $76 billion combined over the life of the deal. It largely confirms monetary figures from a prior Bloomberg story last month about the league’s plans and falls in line with reporting from Sports Business Journal, too.

Dealmaking at Its Finest

The deals, once official, will mark a pivotal point in shaping the future of TV, Kenneth Suh, the chief strategy officer of advertising technology company Nexxen, tells Front Office Sports. “While that figure may seem astronomical, the costs of sports rights have been soaring, and companies view a potential sports deal as a lifeline and guarantee of eyeballs in a time of uncertainty,” Suh says.

After the NBA’s exclusive negotiation window with its incumbents passed in April, things moved quickly with Disney/ESPN and Amazon, and in recent weeks it started to become more and more clear that NBC will take over the TNT package from Warner Bros. Discovery. Along the way, the NBA’s new deals have become one of the most-discussed media contracts in recent memory. Key storylines noticed by FOS so far: 

Possible Play for TNT

FOS media expert Michael McCarthy notes that if TNT does indeed lose its NBA business, there’s a separate question of what happens to NBA TV and NBA.com, which are operated by WBD. “The difficulty of unwinding such a long relationship between TNT and NBA is fueling speculation TNT may score a smaller fourth package,” he says. “That would save face for Zaslav and hopefully keep Charles Barkley’s Inside the NBA on the air.”

Sir Charles on the Mic

Barkley, who has an out clause in his TNT contract if the network loses NBA rights, could become the most sought-after and highest-paid free agent in sports TV history. And he’s made his displeasure with WBD’s handling of the situation—and the mysterious lack of transparency from company executives—known on many occasions, most recently Tuesday during an appearance on Mad Dog Sports Radio.

“That’s the one thing that’s really, really bothered me the most about the TNT experience,” Barkley said. “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.’ I’m like, you guys see us every week. How about picking up the phone, saying, ‘Hey, we’re still negotiating’ or ‘you know what, we’ve lost it.’ … The one thing that really sucks, we’ve got to do this next year no matter what.”

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