With the summer returns of the NBA, MLS, and maybe MLB, ESPN (despite the postponement of UEFA Euro 2020) isn’t in as desperate need for summer content as they typically are. But despite that extra content this year, ESPN has agreed to a new multi-year deal with an event that has become one of its regular summer content providers – The Basketball Tournament.
On Wednesday night, ESPN announced a “multi-year, multi-platform” rights extension with TBT, which has aired on ESPN’s networks since 2015. This year’s tournament will be more condensed than in previous years, taking place from July 4-14 in a quarantined environment in Columbus, Ohio, with all games at Nationwide Arena.
TBT will also be a fanless experience, and if a team member from any of TBT’s 24 teams tests positive, his whole team will be disqualified. With just 24 teams, this is the smallest ever edition of The Basketball Tournament. Initially, 24 teams were expected to participate, with the tournament running from late July into mid-August at a variety of sites across the country, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced significant changes.
The Basketball Tournament has attracted attention for its use of the Elam Ending, which was implemented to cut down on late-game fouling. With the Elam Ending, the game clock is turned off following the first dead ball at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter, and the game ends when one team reaches the “target score,” which is the leading team’s score at the moment the clock is turned off plus eight points. A modified version of the Elam Ending was used at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, with no game clock at all during the fourth quarter and the target score being set at the leading team’s number plus 24, in honor of Kobe Bryant.
The bracket for this year’s tournament and TV assignments are still to be announced, but ESPN noted that over 120 teams, a record number, applied this year. Long-time NBA vet Joe Johnson, who played for the BIG3 last year and won the league’s MVP award, will be a member of the dynastic Overseas Elite team this season. Overseas Elite won four TBT tournaments in a row before falling in 2019’s semifinals to eventual champions Carmen’s Crew.
TBT doesn’t draw the most impressive viewership, but it’s a reliable provider of live content for ESPN during the typically slow summer months. Given that the NBA won’t return until July 31st, more than two weeks after TBT’s conclusion, the return of the tournament will provide basketball-hungry fans with the first live games they’ve been able to watch since mid-March.