Saturday, July 13, 2024

NBA Finalizes Massive Rights Deals With NBC, Amazon, ESPN, Setting Up Possible Warner Showdown

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The biggest drama in sports came one step closer to a conclusion Wednesday after the NBA finalized its next set of rights deals with Disney’s ESPN, NBCUniversal‘s NBC Sports and Amazon‘s Prime Video, setting up a new troika of game purveyors for the next several years –and, potentially, a legal conflagration with one-time media ally Warner Bros. Discovery.

The finalized terms, reported Wednesday by The Athletic, are not being announced immediately, according to a person familiar with the matter, but all the parties have come to terms on pacts that will spread NBA games to NBC and Peacock as well as Prime Video — new roosts for the sport — as well as ESPN and its associated properties. The NBA did not immediately respond to a query seeking comment and NBCU, Amazon and ESPN declined to make executives available for comment.

The agreements will have to be approved by the league’s board of governors, this person says, but the ratification at this point appears nearly certain. The group is expected to meet next week in Las Vegas. Once it gives the nod, the league would send out finished contracts to current and proposed rightsholders.

Current NBA media rights are held by Disney and Warner, but the contract behind them lapses after the 2024-2025 season. Warner has maintained that its current deal gives it the ability to offer to “match” a new package of the games it currently shows, and the company has held out hopes of securing a fourth package of games. Such a concept is unlikely because all of the NBA’s national telecasts are accounted for in deals with the other three companies.

The NBA, like the NFL before it, has been looking to strike long-term deals that reflect the value of sports in the current media ecosystem. In a fast-growing era of streaming video, sports represent one of the few genres that continue to lure the large, simultaneous crowds that advertisers, distributors and the leagues themselves crave. Disney could pay approximately $2.6 billion per year under a new 11-year contract for a smaller passel of games than it currently enjoys, according to people familiar with the talks. Amazon could pay around $1.8 billion per year for a new package that would give the NBA a new foothold with a major streaming platform that has already expanded the NFL’s reach among broadband audiences. And NBCU could pay around $2.5 billion per year.

Warner’s push for a smaller package of games shows just how much its relationship with the NBA has deteriorated in recent years. While the company’s cable networks have been showing NBA games since 1989 — more than three decades — NBA executives have not been thrilled by Warner’s frugal operating methods in the past two years. Warner Bros. Discovery was formed in 2022 after Discovery Inc. merged with the WarnerMedia unit of AT&T.

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