May 16, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Detail view of the ESPN camera before game one of the Western Conference Finals between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the 2023-24 NBA season just days away, it’s prime time for the negotiations of the league’s next media rights deals, which will go into effect a year from now.

And while Charles Barkley has said that the league’s current partners ESPN and TNT (Barkley’s employer) are concerned about streaming’s role in the next deal, a new report suggests that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, the league’s interest in streaming services such as Apple and Amazon stems from the belief that while ESPN and TNT are both likely to be a part of the next rights deal, both are also looking to cut costs and could in turn purchase smaller pieces of the package.

Per WSJ:

ESPN and TNT, which carry roughly 165 nationally televised games combined, are exploring signing up for smaller packages, said people familiar with the situation. That arrangement would help them hang onto a premier asset in American media without breaking the bank. Those companies already are in renewal talks with the NBA, with an exclusive negotiation period set to expire in April.

If ESPN and TNT buy fewer games, that would allow the league to create a package for a streaming video player Amazon and Apple already have expressed interest—and are looking for much more than a small slice of NBA games.

“They’re benefitting from the fact that there are new entrants who look to want to play,” said Jonathan Miller, former NBA executive and chief executive of Integrated Media, which specializes in digital media investments.

Some of this is academic.

As noted in the report, both ESPN and TNT’s parent companies (Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery, respectively) have been looking to cut costs. So while both value their NBA partnerships — and vice versa — it makes sense that each would buy lesser packages, thus leaving (or allowing) the league to take on new partners, who could very well come in the form of streaming services.

WSJ also previously reported that as ESPN looks to push its ESPN+ package, the NBA could offer the network its NBA League Pass package in exchange for a small equity stake. Should Apple, Amazon, and/or any other streaming service take on a national NBA package, it will be interesting to see what it looks like — although it’s worth noting that ESPN and TNT’s renewal talks are currently within an exclusive window that won’t expire until April.

[The Wall Street Journal]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.