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Sunday, June 16, 2024

NBA Media-Rights Talks: Silver Says Deals Are Near, Wants to ‘Wrap It Up’

  • The commissioner highlights the ‘complexity’ of the high-profile media-rights negotiations.
  • Silver issues a particular apology to the talent and crew of ‘Inside the NBA.’
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the elephant in the room, and said answers are hopefully coming soon.

Speaking Thursday night before Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks, Silver said the league is continuing to negotiate its next cycle of national media-rights with both incumbent and potentially new partners, and added that final deals are ideally near.

“It’s been a long process, it’s ongoing, and we hope to wrap it up in the relative near term,” Silver said. 

The subject of the next term of the league’s national media-rights has been the subject of near-daily speculation for much of the season, and has been believed to be approaching a dramatic conclusion in which the league will seal deals worth an estimated $76 billion combined over the life of the contracts. 

Those expectations have been centered on ESPN and parent company Disney gaining the lead package, including a retention of its exclusive hold on the Finals; NBC dramatically returning to NBA coverage and recalling its basketball glory days of the 1990s; and Amazon further enlarging its already expansive position in major pro sports streaming. 

But while TNT Sports parent Warner Bros. Discovery has been squarely on the defensive about the potential of losing its NBA relationship after four decades, there has been renewed talk about the league potentially creating a fourth rights package to allow the network to stay involved. 

Because of the factors involved in that potential network reshuffling of rights, the possible move of TNT Sports’ famed Inside the NBA, the likelihood of corporate fallout stemming from the NBA’s decisions, and outspokenness that’s already happened on the subject, this is one of the most anticipated rights deals in U.S. sports history. It’s also a situation developing in the midst of unprecedented disruption in the media landscape. 

“It’s complicated for several reasons,” Silver said. “One is the advent of new platforms, particularly streaming. It’s complicated with multiple partners all seeking similar assets and just trying to figure out the right way to balance those games as they go to different partners. And we tend to do long-term deals. We think that’s good for the stability of the league. But it means to a certain extent you’re trying to predict the future, which of course is impossible.”

Apology to an Iconic Show

Silver also made special mention of the talent and crew of Inside the NBA, widely acknowledged as the top studio show in all of sports and a long-term fixture of the league. He apologized for the uncertainty that the media-rights negotiations have particularly placed on that show.

“No one likes this uncertainty,” Silver said. “It’s on the league office to bring these negotiations to a head and conclude them as quickly as we can.”

Silver continued on this theme, acknowledging that the rights talks will ultimately result in some losers.

“It’s fantastic to be liked and to be wanted and to have multiple suitors,” he said. “At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable that it’s zero-sum. At the end of the day, there’s only going to be so many television packages and only so many games to distribute.”

State of the Game

In other matters addressed by Silver:

  • He said expansion is not “preordained,” but he reiterated that consideration of such a move will follow the completion of the media-rights deals, and added he is “looking forward” to exploring an issue in which there is “enormous amount of interest.”
  • The commissioner said he hopes WNBA rookie star Caitlin Clark is treated fairly and praised both her skills and temperament. He added that the current business boom around that league goes well beyond just one player and has been “a long time coming.”
  • If Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore win an ongoing ownership arbitration against Timberwolves majority owner Glen Taylor, there will ultimately be a vote on the leadership transfer by the NBA Board of Governors.
  • Silver began his press conference with a lengthy tribute to the late Bill Walton, the beloved Hall of Fame player and broadcaster. Both Celtics and Mavericks players wore shooting shirts prior to Game 1 commemorating Walton.

 “I can’t think of a better ambassador for the NBA than Bill,” Silver said.  

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