Apr 20, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) looks to drive past Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) in the first quarter during game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

While the exclusive negotiating period between the NBA and current rightsholders ESPN and TNT Sports has ended, the incumbents still possess a strong advantage in negotiations.

Per the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint, both ESPN and TNT have matching rights if a third party makes a bid for the NBA’s media rights.

Austin Karp of the Sports Business Journal expanded on the matching rights Tuesday, saying either company could match a deal for a new streaming package or one of the linear deals currently held by ESPN and TNT.

This could manifest itself in two key ways. One, should the NBA look to bring in a third party like Amazon, NBC/Peacock or otherwise on a streaming package, ESPN or TNT would have the right to match that sort of deal. Second, should another company like NBC look to take over an existing linear TV deal held by ESPN or TNT, those incumbents also would have the right to match that deal.

The concept of matching rights is always an interesting one, but in this case, it almost seems to be irrelevant.

If a company like Amazon or NBC comes in for a streaming-exclusive package, it’ll likely be as the NBA’s third media partner. That probably means that ESPN and TNT are already backing up the Brinks truck to retain their existing packages, and there isn’t much of a need to throw another nine (or even ten) figures the NBA’s way.

But if another company, like NBC, comes in for one of the existing NBA’s linear packages held by ESPN or TNT, it would have had to drop an eye-watering bid. ESPN and TNT are currently paying a combined $2.4 billion annually for the NBA’s rights, and the league (like all sports properties) is hunting a significant increase in its next media rights deal. If NBC or another company makes a ludicrous offer of say, $3 billion for just one of those packages, would either company really be willing to match it, especially as cost-cutting has increased across the media landscape?

More than all else, my takeaway from the revelation that both companies have matching rights is that unless another linear network makes an obscene offer, both ESPN and TNT will retain the NBA in one form or another.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.