What to expect in the NBA’s next media deal: Amazon, NBC contenders to join

What to expect in the NBA’s next media deal: Amazon, NBC contenders to join

By Oghale Apr22,2024

In TV rights negotiations, the NBA is seeking new decade-long — or longer — contracts that will alter how it traditionally delivers games, with streaming becoming the principal distribution method, according to league and television executives briefed on the plans.

While the incumbents, ESPN/ABC and TNT Sports, remain intensely interested and very well could retain their rights, it is nearly assured that a new tech partner will join the mix, with Amazon Prime Video the perceived favorite.

Meanwhile, NBC, which aired the Michael Jordan era that elevated the league, covets returning the NBA to its broadcast network and streaming service, Peacock.

On Monday at 11:59 p.m. ET, the exclusive financial negotiation window between the NBA, ESPN and TNT Sports will officially close, allowing league commissioner Adam Silver and his top lieutenants to talk specific contract details with other potential partners, which, besides Amazon and NBC, could include Google/YouTube, Netflix and Apple.

There will be at least three separate packages, which is the NBA’s preference, but the idea of four has not been ruled out, those briefed on the discussions said.

The notion that a pure streamer, like Amazon, could have significant games, including conference finals and perhaps even the NBA Finals at some point over the life of a long-term deal is a possibility, according to executives briefed on the NBA’s discussions.

The NBA Finals’ main broadcasts currently air on ABC, while the conference finals are on ESPN and TNT. Both networks want to retain them.

“We continue to have productive discussions with Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery on a renewal of our media deals,” an NBA spokesperson said in a statement.

The ongoing negotiations are much more complex than in 2014 when, months before the exclusive negotiating deadline, ESPN and TNT both re-upped for a combined $2.6 billion, on average, per season over nine years.

When the NBA is finished with the new deals, it is expected to set its course globally and locally for the future. The league would like contracts for 10 years or maybe longer, according to executives briefed on the league’s thinking, because of the array of companies in the marketplace, which the NBA believes may shrink as streaming continues to replace cable television.

The NBA will broach the idea of partnering with ESPN, Amazon, Apple, Google/YouTube TV — maybe more than one of them — to potentially offer local games direct to consumers. However, one prominent model being contemplated would not offer exclusive rights to these outlets, according to executives briefed on the plans.

For example, in New York, the Knicks are available on cable through MSG Network or with MSGN’s direct-to-consumer subscription app. The NBA could try to sell Knicks games directly to fans on a local level, as a season pass or per game. MSGN offers the same type of service, but also includes other programming.

The NBA’s idea would be to have as many fans have access to the games as possible as cable diminishes.

The NBA timed all of their television deals, domestically and internationally, to end after the 2024-2025 season. This includes NBA League Pass, and its Cloud services, which are currently with Microsoft Azure.

On top of this, with Caitlin Clark’s arrival with the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, the anticipation of a ratings boom off the record-setting numbers for her NCAA Tournament games could result in an upgraded portion for the women’s game, which averaged $40 million per year over the life of its last deal and is currently at around $65 million for this season. The WNBA has more currency in these negotiations than the last ones by a wide margin.

The WNBA is part of the calculus as the league likes to cite that its 230 nights of national windows average more than a million viewers each. The NBA has held steady this year with an overall increase of 1 percent, averaging 1.6 million viewers per game.

NBA on TNT Sports


Along with ESPN, TNT Sports has served as a primary broadcaster for the NBA. Both want to retain their rights, but the NBA is looking to add more partners in its next deal. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Hovering over all the talks is the uncertainty for media companies, such as Disney, the parent of ESPN, and Warner Bros. Discovery, which has TNT under its umbrella. They are all emphasizing their streaming products. TNT Sports has Max and Bleacher Report at its disposal.

Later this fall, ESPN, TNT Sports and Fox Sports will present a joint direct-to-consumer option that is expected to cost between $40-$50 per month, while ESPN will have its own full direct-to-consumer service in 2025 that is expected to be in the $25-30 per month range.

ESPN and the NBA have talked about the league taking a minority equity stake in the network, but that is on the backburner until the rights deals are completed, according to executives briefed on the talks.

Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video appears to be exactly what the NBA is looking for in a new partner, with its worldwide reach of 200 million viewers, according to its latest shareholder letter, its success with the NFL “Thursday Night Football” package, and its desire to be a part of the league. Amazon is only interested in being involved with a regular- and postseason package of high-level games, according to executives briefed on their thinking.

NBC wants back in on the NBA. While all the negotiations will come down to the final billions, NBC executives, including NBC Universal chairman Mark Lazarus, who formerly was with TNT when it brought in the NBA, has long ties with top league officials.

The incumbents, ESPN, with the playoffs and NBA Finals, and TNT, with the playoffs and the All-Star weekend, want to keep their top inventory but could balance a lesser increase with the creation of a more enticing third package that another entity pays for. The In-Season Tournament, created this year, was designed in part to add more attractive games.

While Netflix, Apple and Google/YouTube are all potential partners, they are seen as less likely for the traditional game packages.

The NBA may also try to steer fans to its games through social media. When users post, the NBA could attempt to have links back to its NBA app, which it envisions as a potential front door to all its games, driving people to authenticate their passwords or possibly to buy individual games.

In the new digital age, the NBA’s next deals will be about tomorrow, not yesterday. As of Monday night, they are free to talk fully with everyone who wants to be involved in what’s next.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

NBA likely to exit negotiating window without new TV deal

(Top photo of ESPN’s Malika Andrews interviewing the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James after the In-Season Tournament championship game in December: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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