NBA broadcast rights package Logos courtesy each company, edit by Liam McGuire from Comeback Media

The frontrunners for NBA rights in the league’s next broadcast package are ESPN, Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon. But NBCUniversal wants in, and the NBA wants someone to buy up the In-Season Tournament and maybe its League Pass product, too. Netflix likely won’t bid, but even that depends on who you ask. Got all that?

The exclusive negotiating window for Disney and WBD likely ends soon, meaning the floodgates will soon open as wide as the league’s imagination can stretch with a new package. Still, as we head into 2024, hoops fans don’t know where they will go (or how many services they will have to pay for) to watch games when the new deal begins in the 2025-26 season.

News keeps coming ,though, and Awful Announcing is here with a guide to what all we know about the next NBA rights package.

Three or more partners

New York Post sports media insider Andrew Marchand recently reported on the latest with each broadcaster and said on his podcast, “the biggest takeaway is more than three partners … if the NBA wants to reach the numbers they have said.” Marchand suggested the NBA will not triple its broadcast rights revenue as originally hoped, but “could double it.”

But the NBA cannot do so simply by wringing more money from its current partners at Disney and WBD.

Who those partners will be is pretty wide open.

Amazon wants the NBA playoffs if it gets in on a rights deal. Would the Play-In Tournament leading into the postseason suffice?

Rumors swirled about Netflix bidding for the NBA Cup, but the streamer still does not appear ready to bid for live sports.

Matt Belloni of Puck speculated that YouTube (and parent Google) could look at an NBA bid following the success of the NFL Sunday Ticket in its first year on the platform. Nobody seems to know what the league will do with its version of Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass. Could YouTube take over operation of the service from WBD Sports?

Marchand called Apple a “wild card,” and judging from their business model and deal with MLS, global rights would seemingly be the highest priority for the tech company. Is the NBA ready to give those up?

That leaves NBCUniversal as the only other dark horse that could make a bid. Longtime media executive Nick Khan indicated NBC could partner with WBD for a broadcast package earlier this year.

No matter which direction the NBA goes, it will also need to negotiate exclusivity and streaming options. Consider it a lock that ESPN+, Max, Peacock and maybe even Hulu or Disney+ will air games simultaneously alongside their sister cable channels.

Days of the week

Especially as the NFL maintains viewership supremacy in the United States, broadcast windows matter a great deal as well. It’s no accident that the NBA scheduled IST games for Tuesday and Friday nights, when there are no NFL games. WBD also moved its primary TNT games to Tuesday nights away from Thursdays a couple years ago, while Disney starts Sunday matinee NBA games after football season each Sunday.

On the other hand, Marchand reported Amazon actually prefers coupling the NFL and NBA on Thursday nights.

When it comes to ESPN condensing its package, Marchand believes it could cut Wednesday nights from its schedule in favor of just Fridays plus those post-football weekend games.

A League Pass, postseason or play-in tournament package would cover several days. And we don’t know what Apple or Netflix would desire from a calendar standpoint.

Local broadcasts

Despite what Rich Paul believes, the fall of regional sports networks will create significant disruptions in the business model of the NBA, NHL and MLB.

Along with YouTube and Sunday Ticket, Prime Video already has “local” broadcast deals with the New York Yankees and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.

Several NBA teams, including the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, have jumped off the traditional RSN model and embraced a combination of linear television and subscription streaming.

Marchand reported the Diamond Sports bankruptcy and move away from the RSN model creates “possibilities for domestic and international deals rolled into one.”

The NBA quietly has put a ton of investment and marketing heft behind its app as well, where mobile users access League Pass along with tons of G League games, grassroots tournaments, and exclusive analysis and content. Don’t be surprised if the NBA absorbs more content itself and beefs up its ad sales and distribution teams at the league office.

Talent and tertiary content

In covering the NBA rights negotiations here, even I have heard from talent and talent management who see an upcoming goldmine as more distributors get in on hoops broadcasts. For years, anyone who wanted to be part of an NBA broadcast were subject to the whims of suits at Turner/WBD and Disney.

But as Amazon has shown with Thursday Night Football, it’s not afraid to get creative. And competitors are likely to take a cue from the e-commerce giant and go big with tertiary content and second-screen broadcasts.

At a broader level, reopening the entire rights package allows the NBA to add other forms of content into the mix. The NBA has deals with both FanDuel and DraftKings, gambling operators looking to fill air time on new FAST channels and on live digital shows. The league is constantly looking for ways to monetize its popularity among younger fans online.

If the NBA wants to get truly creative and be more ambitious, why not rope sportsbooks into studio shows, second-screen broadcasts, or interactive content on the NBA app? Or take a cue from the NFL’s dabbling with Nickelodeon and get Disney to put kid-friendly broadcasts on the Disney Channel or Disney+?

The first quarter of 2024 is likely to be filled with details as the NBA gets to the finish line on its broadcast package. The possibilities are extensive in the streaming age. But with some sounding the alarm over the league’s future, the NBA will need to strike a balance between creativity and financial return.

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.