As the NBA is about to enter negotiations with ESPN and Turner for a new rights deal, the networks are requesting more flexibility in their schedules. Both companies are requesting the ability to flex out a less-than-desirable game for a more attractive matchup that can drive ratings. ESPN and Turner have limited flex scheduling and have to decide on changing a game well in advance.
There were instances this season where ESPN and TNT were stuck with the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, both of which were disappointments. Now both want the opportunity to flex a bad game out of their national windows and slot a better game in its place similar to what NBC and the NFL can do with Sunday Night Football.
And while ESPN and Turner are hoping to get flex scheduling enacted, NBA owners apparently are not enthusiastic about this idea. While the league makes good money from the national contracts, team owners also have lucrative individual local rights deals with regional sports networks. They would be less than thrilled to help the league’s national TV partners at the expense of the RSN’s.
Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and John Lombardo report that the flex scheduling could become a road block in the rights negotiations. The NBA is hoping it bring a significant increase from its current deal which pays the league $7.5 billion. Talks are expected to begin with ESPN and TNT in the summer.
So we are already seeing one battle line drawn between the NBA’s national TV partners and the league’s owners. Both sides are willing to dig in to ensure their interests are being met, however, ESPN/TNT or whomever will broadcast the NBA will find a way to compromise so games aren’t taken away from the local contracts and the networks will be happy.
The current national NBA deals expire at the end of the 2015-16 season so there’s still a long way to go until the new contracts are signed.