NBA studio show stars Photos from TNT Sports, ESPN. Edit by Liam McGuire, Comeback Media.

Sports diehards and media watchers love studio shows, but the latest round of NBA broadcast rights negotiations shows a league risking worse “shoulder” programming in chase of the almighty dollar.

As the NBA readies a new package that will include first-time partner Amazon Prime Video and the potential return of NBC, it risks losing longtime partner TNT Sports, which pairs games with the popular Inside the NBA. At the same time, the NBA reportedly already agreed to a deal with Disney that includes ABC broadcasting the NBA Finals. While ESPN invests a great deal in NBA coverage, its studio show is notoriously brief and shuffles its cast constantly.

New reports indicate a rival network could poach or share Inside the NBA if TNT Sports loses NBA rights, but the league can’t know its fate until negotiations are done.

As a result, it’s not hard to imagine a new NBA broadcast rights package that includes several first-time studio setups, the end of Inside the NBA in its current form, and the haphazard ESPN show front and center.

That signals one of two things: Either a lot of trust in their new partners or straight-up ambivalence.

First, consider the league’s thinking. Losing a viral moment machine like Inside without any clear substitute would seem like a killer for the NBA. However, it’s worth considering the thinking of Adam Silver and league owners here. Sports leagues don’t make money directly from studio programming. Networks make ad dollars on hungry viewers who tune in early and stay late after games. To the leagues, it’s more like free marketing.

At the same time, the commentary from studio analysts is less predictable than game broadcasts. While basketball fans may count Inside as one of their favorite things about tuning into TNT game nights, for every classic joke or enlightening breakdown,  someone like Charles Barkley is just as likely to go viral for calling out the league or a player as he is for his Diet Coke addiction or disdain for the city of Galveston, Texas.

Beyond that, Silver has openly chided those who broadcast his league, calling for more “NFL-like” coverage, which is to say less lazy, narrative-based commentary. The NBA was always going to go with the highest bidder, but it’s possible that Silver’s opinions on current studio coverage infected the league’s approach to negotiations in some part. That’s not to say Silver dislikes Inside, but a refresh could be appealing to him and the league.

Certainly, bringing on Prime Video and NBC (should that deal go through) provides an opportunity for fresh faces. From national reporters to digital content creators to local announcers, basketball has a stuffed pipeline of talent. A league wouldn’t put a conference final on streaming (as the NBA reportedly will with Amazon) if the goal is traditionalism.

So there are pathways for the NBA to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to maximizing rights fees and maintaining strong promotion from studio shows and connected content.

That brings us to ESPN. We know the NBA previously exerted its influence over the worldwide leader, with longtime NBA Finals game analyst Mark Jackson the latest to allege his criticism over officiating led in part to his layoff from ESPN last year. Rather than external meddling, internal changes have largely kept ESPN’s NBA Countdown from finding a groove. That, and potentially the shortest segments in the history of studio shows.

By placing its most valuable property, the Finals, on ABC, the NBA is losing out on making that product the best it can be. On Countdown, you don’t get “NFL-like” coverage or narrative chatter. You hardly get anything at all. It’s Stephen A. Smith turning every conversation back toward the Knicks and Michael Wilbon doing his usual schtick. But there is no indication the NBA has a problem with Countdown‘s brevity, lack of consistency, or focus on ad revenue.

Taken in whole, this new NBA rights package signals a broader step into the unknown. Studio coverage is just one element.

Detractors have already highlighted how moving a significant portion of games to Amazon will jeopardize the discoverability of the sport, especially for young people. Making it harder to find games creates avoidable barriers to fandom.

There is nothing wrong with the NBA’s focus on putting its games where fans are and will be and ensuring the friendliest announcers it can get. Yet the long-running success of Inside the NBA shows the potential for a studio show. You could make a case Barkley is the single greatest ambassador for the league over the past two decades. People want to watch Inside, which makes them care about and watch the games. The same can be said of Baseball Tonight in its heyday, Joe Rogan’s embrace of MMA on the biggest podcast in the world, or someone like Chris Berman for the NFL.

When it comes to the NFL, it got lucky with its move to Prime Video. The streamer spent big in its purchase on Thursday Night Football, adding recognizable personalities for the studio like Charissa Thompson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tony Gonzalez. The NBA could luck out there.

But Barkley has openly worried that Ernie Johnson could leave Inside if TNT loses NBA rights. ESPN continues to twiddle its thumbs. New networks might cheap out.

To get the greatest possible rights fees, the NBA could be sacrificing the type of ambassadorship and promotion that fans love.

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.