Ernie Johnson Adam Silver Feb 20, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; TBS announcer Ernie Johnson with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after Team LeBron defeated Team Durant in the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is officially open for business after the exclusivity window passed with current partners ESPN and TNT Sports. While the next NBA television contracts have been the subject of endless speculation over the last several months, it finally seems like things are becoming “real” now that the deadline has passed and new deals can be struck with new potential partners.

So many breadcrumbs have been dropped by Adam Silver and other NBA execs, current rights partners, potential rights partners, industry analysts, and social media aggregators that it’s enough to fill a Grimm fairy tale several times over. You may be thinking, “Enough already, just announce something!” And you’re probably right.

But it’s not an overstatement to suggest that this is the biggest sports media deal this decade. The NBA could be in the position to set the tone for every other sports league (not named the NFL) in an era of tightening budgets and expanded options. If the NBA hits the jackpot, it’ll encourage leagues that there is still more money to be made. If it lands on the conservative side, it’ll send shivers down C-suite spines. And if the NBA is bold and aggressive in partnering with a streamer, it could go a long way toward reshaping the current landscape even more.

With all that in mind, here’s our best guess at the state of play in April 2024 and predictions for how it all shakes down…

ESPN – Much has been made over the incredibly tenuous position ESPN is in from a business perspective. But they will still shell out money for things that are important to them and things that fill up airtime. The NBA has been so crucial to ESPN not just from a game inventory perspective, but from driving daily conversation on the network over the last several years it’s hard to imagine them getting out of business with the Association. It may be a decreased inventory, but an ESPN-NBA relationship is too beneficial to both sides to have it reduced drastically.
Prediction: NBA Finals rotation, Conference Finals, Wednesday/Friday windows.

TNT – Likewise, the TNT Sports relationship with the NBA has gone on for decades. While TNT has been aggressively taking hold of the NHL, MLB, and soccer rights, they still don’t mean to the network what the NBA does. However, given other parties’ interest, TNT may also have to make do with a reduced slate.
Prediction: Conference Finals, Tuesday/Thursday windows.

NBC – There’s been a lot of smoke around NBC getting back into the NBA business, and not just from fans of Roundball Rock. Adam Silver has mentioned wanting to replicate the NFL model. And tempting NBC with some primetime action outside of football season and an NBA Finals rotation could be the winning combination for both sides. And you know there will be some Peacock exclusives in there as well.
Prediction: NBA Finals rotation, Saturday primetime, select showcase games.

Streamer – We know that streaming is going to be a part of the new NBA deal because Silver seems determined to get it done. The question is who? While Amazon has been touted, Netflix may be the dark horse contender. The platform would provide the NBA global reach which is important to the league and its international fanbase and finally be the splash that we’ve been waiting years for in live sports. Carving out special events like the NBA In-Season Tournament, All-Star Game, Play-In Tournament, and some playoff action could be enough to get it over the line.
Prediction: Netflix wins the In-Season Tournament, All-Star Weekend, Play-In Tournament, and select playoff games.

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