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Saturday, May 18, 2024

NBA’s Media Rights Are Set to Expire: Who’s Got Next?

  • The league’s exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and TNT is expiring.
  • Amazon and NBC could be candidates to grab new packages.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA playoffs are underway, but as teams battle on the court, the league is turning its attention toward formal negotiations for its next set of media rights deals. Monday marks the end of the NBA’s exclusive negotiating window with the parent companies of incumbent broadcasters ESPN and TNT, meaning that come midnight, other bidders can officially present offers for new deals that will start at the beginning of the 2025–26 season.

Through its nine-year, $24 billion deals with ESPN and TNT, the NBA has been bringing in almost $2.7 billion annually. The league just had its most-watched regular season in four years, averaging an audience of 1.09 million across ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV, a 1% increase from last season. So, what will the next deals yield? In 2021, CNBC reported that the NBA would be seeking $75 billion, but league officials pushed back on that number privately. Deals that total even $50 billion—depending on their length—would see the NBA double its current intake.

The Contenders

Here’s what we know so far about how things could shake out:

  • Disney: ESPN losing NBA rights altogether would be the biggest shock of all, and it seems the most unlikely outcome. But with the potential of the league ending up with three or even four partners, the Worldwide Leader likely won’t have as many games as it does now, splitting things up almost evenly with TNT.
  • Warner Bros. Discovery: David Zaslav, the company’s CEO, has publicly said WBD doesn’t need the NBA to survive, but it would still be surprising if the newly-branded TNT Sports didn’t keep at least some rights, especially given the launch of a new live sports tier for the Max streaming service.
  • Amazon: Prime Video already has multiple international NBA deals, and the company’s head of sports, Jay Marine, has gone on the record about its pursuit of U.S. sport rights, saying the streamer wants playoff games, too. Adding the NBA would complement Amazon’s live sports portfolio, which already includes the NFL, NWSL, and WNBA.
  • NBC: The network last had league rights in 2002, but the old NBA on NBC theme song still brings fond memories for many fans that enjoyed it during the Michael Jordan-Bulls era. In an interview with Front Office Sports in February, Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of NBC parent company Comcast, said simply, “We’re always interested in acquiring great content, and the NBA certainly offers great content.”

The Sleepers

Beyond the big four, options are “fairly limited,” says veteran sports media expert Ed Desser, a former NBA executive. But some streamers are still catching his eye. 

  • Netflix: The streaming giant was once linked to potential interest around the NBA’s in-season tournament (now rebranded as the Emirates NBA Cup), and Desser won’t rule out a Netflix bid “in light of their growth and interest in sports and sports-like content.” Netflix agreed to a 10-year, $5 billion deal with the WWE and has produced multiple one-off events across golf, tennis, and boxing.
  • Apple: The company has been clear about its preferences to partner with leagues when it can acquire rights on a global scale, not just a single package in one market. Apple won’t get 100% of rights here, like it does in its MLS deal, but what about outside the U.S.? NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum recently told FOS that the league “lined up all of our international deals to be able to go to market for a streaming platform, with a truly global proposition.” And Desser says, “You cannot rule out the possibility of a surprise party like Apple.”
  • Google: Desser thinks that any involvement with YouTube would be around NBA League Pass, similar to the deal for NFL Sunday Ticket.

No firm timetable has been released for getting new deals done, but conventional wisdom suggests the league would want things wrapped up before next season starts, in October.

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