The NBA appears to be in the driver's seat when it comes to future TV negotiations. It's a complicated road ahead for current TV network right holders.
As the second-biggest U.S. professional sports league in terms of rights fees paid by national TV networks and streaming platforms, the NBA is now in the process of negotiating new multiyear TV/streaming deals. In addition, the league's teams will look to do the same for local TV deals with either regional sports networks or TV station groups.
For the latter, it hopes for steadier growth -- with one report now saying 13 NBA team TV deals with Diamond Sports Group's Bally Sports-branded RSNs will continue -- but only through the end of the current season. Diamond Sports filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
This means teams will need to strike new local TV and streaming video contracts starting next year.
All this could play into the hands of growing connected TV streaming platforms, from Amazon Prime Video and/or Apple TV+.
In addition, some local TV station groups have been pursuing local pro sports teams deals -- after decades of being out of the business.
Now it seems more complications could arise going forward for those national TV platforms.
Walt Disney may face issues with ABC/ESPN, especially when it comes to separating ESPN and/or ABC from Disney through a possible joint venture or the outright sales of those networks.
“Given the growing importance of broadcast reach when negotiating with leagues for media rights, would not owning ABC make it more difficult for ESPN to license sports rights going forward?”, wonders Rich Greenfield, media analyst at LightShed Ventures. “Is uncertainty around the future of ABC a critical issue in NBA negotiations?
In recent years, ESPN offered up the bulk of NBA regular-season games, with a few games on ABC. When the NBA Playoffs and finals come around, ABC moves to the forefront.
But going forward this year, the path may not be all that easy. ABC and ESPN have been in lockstep when it comes to planning and marketing sports events -- not just with the NBA, but also the NFL's “Monday Night Football.” This season, ABC simulcasts all “MNF” games alongside ESPN.
What happens if Disney is seriously considering selling its linear TV networks, including ABC, to another party? What would happen to the ABC-ESPN sports partnership?
A TV Watch previously explored the issue of Warner Bros. Discovery's TNT network possibly abandoning NBA programming to help bring down losses incurred in other parts of the company, such as its streaming platform Max.
Currently, the NBA earns a combined $2.7 billion per season from national TV airings of ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery -- a figure that most analysts believe could possibly double in future contracts.
Combined with regional sports networks deals and projected high-priced deal-making, expect the big financial leverage points to be racking up in favor of another strong sports franchise. An easy layup.