As the NBA enters its final two years of its TV contract with ESPN and TNT, we’re learning a few details of what could be in the next contract.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting (subscription required) that the Association is considering splitting the NBA Finals between ESPN/ABC and Turner. From the WSJ:
“In a twist, the NBA may look to split up the NBA Finals between the two media companies, so that the championship round games would air on channels belonging to both, the people familiar with the matter said. That could take various forms: The networks could alternate Finals coverage each year, or carve up the Finals—played as the best-of-seven—in a given year.”
Both networks are in exclusive negotiating windows and nothing can be done on the Finals until that time expires. ESPN has aired the Finals exclusively on ABC since 2003 and has no intention of giving them up.
Turner has been airing the NBA either on TBS or TNT dating back to 1984 and has been a loyal partner to the league. It has never aired the Finals ceding the series to either CBS, NBC or ESPN/ABC over that period. It would like to get a piece of the Finals not only to add to its sports portfolio, but also increase its subscriber fees to cable and satellite providers.
The NBA is hoping to use the Finals as a way to double its payments from ESPN and TNT currently worth $930 million annually.
Waiting in the wings should negotiations with ESPN and TNT fail are Fox and NBC who are likely chomping at the bit hoping to get a piece of coveted live content for their cable networks.
Also waiting on the new contract are the NBA players who are expecting a big windfall from the TV partners. LeBron James’ signing of a two-year contract with Cleveland is evidence that he expects more money when the new TV deal is finalized.
The drama around the last major sports media rights deal until 2021 is beginning to unfold and it will be interesting to see where the chips will fall when all is said and done.