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What’s the Deal with the NBA Media Rights?

by Scott Kacsmar
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NBA media rights

For the entirety of LeBron James’ brilliant NBA career, which started in 2003, everyone knew the 3 networks to watch NBA games were ABC, ESPN and TNT.

That could soon be changing for the next generation of NBA stars as the league looks for new media rights with a long line of suitors fighting for rights in a new media era that now includes streaming of live sports.

Sports are huge business these days, and according to Bloomberg, some believe the NBA is eyeing a $76 billion deal over 11 years to triple its last media rights deals with Disney and Turner Sports that are set to expire in 2025.

Are the days numbered for turning on NBA on TNT and seeing Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal having fun after the Thursday night game ends? It’s possible.

Let’s look at what could be in store for the future of NBA media rights.

The Current NBA Media Partners

As we mentioned above, ABC, its sister network ESPN and TNT have been the dominant trio providing NBA coverage since at least 2002.

TNT Sports, formerly Turner Sports, has actually been airing NBA games since 1988. It still has weekly games on Tuesdays and Thursdays and gets a large chunk of the playoff coverage each year, including the rights to a Conference Final each year. It has recently added coverage on streaming service Max as part of the deal with Warner Bros. Discovery.

In 2002, The Walt Disney Company inked a deal to allow ABC and ESPN the rights to air NBA games.

ESPN would get games on Wednesdays and Fridays with some playoff coverage. ABC would have more marquee games on holidays (Christmas), Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons after the NFL season ends, and it has been the home of the NBA Finals each year under the deal. The last deal Disney and Turner Sports/Warner Bros. Discovery signed with the NBA in 2014 was for about $2.66 billion per year. This next one is expected to be much larger with some projecting more than $6 billion per year.

That’s why the betting market on this at top-rated sportsbooks like BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review to learn more) looks extremely tempting. You can bet that the next NBA media deal will be over $2.5 billion with -300 odds. We’ll take that with ease.

The Next Set of Media Partners

While negotiations are ongoing between the NBA and its incumbent providers (Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery), the league could branch out to 3 or 4 total partners in providing broadcast rights to its games.

It is also possible the NBA will include WNBA games in these new packages. The WNBA figures to have a major bump in viewing thanks to the arrival of Caitlin Clark with the Indiana Fever. She was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft and her storied college career has greatly increased the viewership and interest in women’s basketball.

With that in mind, here are some of the potential new partners for NBA media rights.

  • Amazon Prime

Amazon has been in the streaming business for several years now with Prime Video, which has been the home of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football for the last few seasons.

The NBA is reportedly interested in more streaming of live games, and Prime Video has the infrastructure to handle that after successfully producing NFL games.

Since all Amazon Prime members get access to Prime Video, the millions of users who love their free shipping also can stream daily without paying for an extra service beyond their regular Amazon Prime membership.

The NBA has actually already used Prime Video to livestream games in Brazil, and there is of course interest in furthering the international markets for coverage of the league.

  • NBC Sports

If TNT does not remain part of the NBA media rights, and NBA on TNT star Charles Barkley has some concerns that might be the case, then NBC Sports is the logical replacement.

The NBA on NBC goes back many years as they had partnerships in 1954-62 and again in 1990-2002. In fact, some of the best ratings in NBA history came during the 1990s when NBC had the big games, including the NBA Finals.

NBC has more recently been all in on the NFL with its Sunday Night Football flagship game, and it has moved into the streaming business with the Peacock app. This past January, Peacock live-streamed an NFL wild card playoff game between the Dolphins and Chiefs. It has also streamed MLB games in recent years.

Peacock is a lesser streaming app than Amazon’s Prime Video, but it is hoping to have a big 2024 when it has around-the-clock coverage of the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The NBCUniversal Media Group also owns the rights to the USA Network, which has a long history of sports programming, including NHL playoff games, and it also was a long-time home of WWE. With WWE Raw soon leaving USA for Netflix, the NBA deal could help put games on that network.

Conclusion: Fans Just Want Quality Games Regardless of the Network

Billions of dollars are about to be spent by these companies to secure the next decade of NBA TV rights.

The main one to watch is NBC vs. TNT. NBC had good past relationships with the NBA, but it was outbid by Disney (ABC/ESPN) in 2002. Now we’ll see if NBC can outbid TNT to get back in the NBA business and the era of players like Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Brunson, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Edwards, Giannis Antetokounmpo and new sensation Victor Wembanyama.

Wherever the NBA ends up going with its media rights, you know the talent on the court is still the main driving factor in fans watching the games. The networks are the ones putting up the money for these games. We just want to enjoy a good game and maybe an entertaining post-game show regardless of the network it’s on.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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