Just a mere 48 hours after the SBJ's report that the NBA is looking to address their television deals ahead of their 2016 expiration, the predictions and commentary on what will play out next has come fast and furious. Our Ken Fang delivered his handicapping of the NBA rights race earlier this week. With MLB, the NFL, and the NHL locked up long term, the NBA is the last of the four major sports leagues with an impending expiring rights deal, so the importance of its next TV contracts can't be overstated. Below is an additional guide on questions to monitor as the process plays out…
Does Turner or ESPN/ABC Have A Chance Of Not Retaining A Package?
If conditions lined up where there was a perfect storm of circumstances against either company, hypothetically you could see one of these networks being displaced. Unfortunately there is no perfect storm brewing.
The NHL rights are locked up for almost a decade, making it a non-existent fallback option if either Turner or ESPN/ABC found the NBA's asking price too rich. MLB, NFL, and almost all major conferences are also off the table. Essentially if you lose the NBA, there is little to fill the void.
The economy is good and both companies are free and clear from any major strategic issues like a pending merger or corporate spinoff.
ESPN is still largely unopposed with the mainstream outside of NHL fans still not aware of NBCSN, what channel number it is, and if they get it. Although it's big news in this space, the average fan may not be aware fo the existence of Fox Sports 1 just yet.
Turner's coverage is preferred by most NBA fans and Turner also runs NBA.com and handles production of NBA TV. Turner's Atlanta HQ is where both operations are housed.
Although it's fun to think of some way where the NBA leaves ESPN or Turner and mints a new ESPN challenger, it's likely not happening. The fact the NBA wants to jump into extension talks 2 years in advance is a strong signal that they are happy and want to lock this in. David Stern is retiring and he would like to wrap this up under his watch. The fact that the NBA is looking to have talks ahead of FS1's launch and while NBCSN is still finding it's footing indicates to me that just like the Facebook couple you wish would end it, they're more likely to change their status update to engaged or married rather than breaking up.
In a nutshell, the Bucks had a better chance of knocking off the Heat.
Will The NBA Create A Third Television Package For FS1 And NBCSN To Fight To The Death For?
This is the most intriguing question to me. Surely NBCSN and FS1 know this is their clearest path to NBA games and will be doing their damndest to sway the NBA to consider such an option.
If I'm the NBA, I do it in a heartbeat. There's enough games for everyone and why not plant your flag on a fourth network (counting NBATV as a third).
I posed this question to John Ourand (who doesn't write his articles in a basement in mesh shorts) and his feedback was, "I doubt it will carve out another package. ESPN and Turner pay for exclusivity."
Still though, you have to wonder.
There is a nostalgia element with NBC and the NBA that will resonate with fans. That said, the NBA cares about money and exposure. Some "game of the week" package or "doubleheader day/night" for a NBCSN or FS1 would certainly elevate the NBA's presence on a growing sports network.
In regards to NBCSN, the question looms large on if they could actually juggle working with the NHL and NBA. ESPN chose not to twice and they had the benefit of ESPN2. Meanwhile, NBC is playing NHL game 7's on CNBC where it's labeled in the program guide as a financial show. While NBC could add value and would be great in my opinion, I think Ourand is probably right that Turner and ESPN would appease the NBA by paying more to keep the NBA off a third network.
While FS1 would also be very interesting, Fox doesn't exactly have the best history in terms of actual game production. Plus, the channel has yet to even launch. FS1 and the NBA would be a nice fit, but the timing doesn't seem right.
Still though, it's not hard to make the case to create such a package and if the NBA has a bit of vision and keeps their current television partners happy, then it could happen. There could be a chance we see something develop here for either FS1 or NBCSN.
Will The NBA Continue To Be On Broadcast TV?
If you haven't noticed sports programming is moving off broadcast and onto cable. Monday Night Football, the BCS, the Final Four, etc. Will the NBA follow suit?
Again, I turned to John Ourand (who works in an office and whose job likely includes health insurance) to answer this question. He deemed that a good question (YES!) and replied with "I don't know how important a broadcast presence is to the NBA."
Basically, ESPN will try to steer the NBA in this direction. The NBA will want more money and may put a firm "no" on the NBA Finals on ESPN in particular.
My guess is that this extension will likely see the NBA phase out games on ABC with the NBA Finals remaining on broadcast TV for a handful of years before eventually moving over to ESPN.
The flow of top sporting events to cable is inevitable and the NBA will find the middle ground by allowing the Finals to stay for a while before moving over.
When Will These Deals Actually Get Done?
The SBJ article said they would get looked at this summer. With that in mind, here is how the timeline could break down…
July 2013- NBA begins talking to Turner and ESPN. Both sides of the table pronounce a love of the other side and a strong interest in working together. All compliments. A deal could be imminent!
August 2013 – The NBA will ask for somewhere around the neighborhood of $1.5 billion a year (up from the $937 million annually in their last deal). ESPN and Turner will say "that sounds rich" and momentum will slow down.
September 2013 – The NBA will have "informal" meetings with FS1 and NBC. As mentioned before, one of them has a shot at potentially convincing the NBA to carve out a new package. Word will get back to Turner and ESPN who will act somewhat indignant before sending in the "A team" suits to further caress the NBA.
October- December 2013 – The season starting would be a good artificial deadline to try to aim for. The holidays is a good fallback option. Either way, an extension is going to take place before David Stern leaves office at the end of January.
The two variables in my mind that could extend this thing or make it a shorter negotiating period is a) how far apart the NBA and ESPN and Turner will be in their initial offers b) if FS1 or NBCSN has much traction in luring the NBA to jump in bed with them too.
What Deal Terms Could Change?
Turner and ESPN are going to pony up so they'll naturally ask for some things in exchange which could include:
- A much longer deal than previous television contracts (see the SEC's mammoth commitment wtih ESPN)
- Fewer blackout restrictions
- Less restrictions on picking top teams a certain amount of times a year
- Rights to online and mobile
There you have it. A total shot in the dark guide to what to look for over the summer and into the fall in regards to the NBA's future on television. Bottom line: more money will be passed on to viewers and funneled to owners and players with a shot in the arm to an ESPN competitor being unlikely and Turner's NBA franchise continuing its strong run.