Turner’s Players Only NBA on TNT broadcasts are going away, at least for this coming season. Richard Deitsch of The Athletic broke that news on Twitter Wednesday:
Via sources: TNT will no longer air the Players Only NBA broadcast. Turner Sports will likely do some Players Only content but as far as games for the 2019-20 season, the Players Only broadcast on TNT is no more.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) July 24, 2019
Those broadcasts, which featured former NBA players in all on-camera roles (play-by-play, game analysis, sideline reporting, and studio analysis), were first implemented in early 2017 for the late-season slate of Monday NBA games on TNT. They later expanded to NBA TV in the fall of that year. But they’ve taken a fair bit of criticism. Turner’s concept was “a more creative, innovative approach, a differentiating brand opportunity” with game broadcasts that were “much more conversational” (as per Turner Sports executive vice president and chief content officer Craig Barry in February 2017), but the execution didn’t always impress viewers, with some parts of the broadcasts (including Nate Robinson ad reads) falling below the standards some viewers expected.
And that led to a lot of Twitter discussion around Players Only that was quite negative, and that led in turn to a lot of rejoicing around this news. Here are some of the replies to Deitsch along those lines:
OMG TNT actually listened to their viewers.
— Jay is Back! for a while now (@JamesMolina31) July 24, 2019
— AFunkyDiabetic (@FunkyDiabetic1) July 24, 2019
— SOLID SNAKE (@Sneakersnake12) July 24, 2019
— Apex (@Apex323_) July 24, 2019
Of course, there were also some Twitter users who liked Players Only and were upset about the cancellation, and it should be noted as always that Twitter isn’t a representative sample of everyone watching broadcasts. The conversation there about sports broadcasts is usually driven by those with strong feelings about the broadcasts, and it’s usually more negative than positive. And Twitter opposition isn’t always going to lead to changes (no, Fox is not going to fire Joe Buck because some people on Twitter don’t like him), and this move isn’t even necessarily specifically about the Twitter complaints. But it feels like a safe bet that Turner has noticed some of the backlash to Players Only, and that may have been a factor in going away from it this season. (It’s also notable that other outlets have now tried the “players only” approach, particularly Fox Sports Detroit on selected Tigers’ games this season, and it’s taken a lot of criticism there as well.)
It’s interesting to hear that Turner may still do “some Players Only content,” though, and that may be a useful path forward for this idea. There’s the Turner/NBA Digital Players Only Films banner of Facebook Watch videos (which has featured everything from Kevin Garnett mentoring prospects to a documentary on Luka Dončič and Džanan Musa and the history of players from the former Yugoslavia heading to the NBA to a film on Penny Hardaway’s career and post-career impact. A lot of those efforts have been well-received, and we may see more there.
And maybe Turner will find other ways to use a Players Only brand. The interaction between some of the analysts here was sometimes entertaining, and Turner’s been able to take advantage of that kind of entertaining banter and rivalry elsewhere (notably with the on-set hijinks of Inside The NBA and with Garnett’s Area 21 series). Maybe there are some further places they can take Players Only that will appeal to more of the audience. But for now, it looks like there won’t be further full Players Only game broadcasts on TNT this year, and the viewers who disliked that series will certainly be happy about that.
[Richard Deitsch on Twitter]