By all accounts, NBC might not end up getting back into the NBA broadcasting game when the dust clears and the next media rights deal is settled.
But in the meantime, there sure is a lot of smoke.
The NBA and NBC were synonymous with one another in the 1990s. Just by mentioning that, you’ve already probably started humming John Tesh’s iconic Roundball Rock. However, the 2002 NBA Finals were the last time the network broadcast an NBA game (though some of the NBC Sports Regional Networks have their own deals). Turner and ESPN took over the NBA broadcasting rights and have held them since.
Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery are currently in their exclusive negotiating window with the NBA on the next TV rights deal, but for months now, rumors and reports about NBC Universal’s interest in getting back in the game have heated up.
CNBC reported in February that NBC had put out some feelers about NBA media rights. In June, Andrew Marchand of The New York Post said that “NBC is a player” in negotiations. In July, the president of NBCU’s parent company, Comcast, floated some intriguing statements. And this week, WWE president and former CAA executive Nick Khan mentioned that he’s hearing rumblings of an NBC/TNT partnership.
Appearing at the IMG Summit earlier this week, NBCUniversal Media Group Chairman Mark Lazarus discussed how appealing the NBA is as a product and how there’s something intriguing about it to him.
On the issue of NBC getting back in the NBA, here’s NBCUniversal Media Group Chair Mark Lazarus at the IMG Summitt this week: pic.twitter.com/M8PtwWW0ct
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) September 15, 2023
“Both NBC and me personally have long histories with [the] NBA from my Turner years,” Lazarus said. “It’s a wonderful product in the States and globally. It’s a really valuable product [that is] culturally relevant in ways maybe some other sports aren’t, [and] it speaks to multiple generations, so we’re intrigued by that. But we’re not an incumbent, and the process will come and go as it does.”
He added that their priority remains to work with the partnerships they already have, including the NFL, the Olympics, the Big Ten, and the Premier League. But it’s also worth noting that some of their existing partnerships could end soon. The WWE-UFC merger could have a huge impact on their current deal with them and there are ongoing discussions about renewing their NASCAR partnership.
Whichever way it plays out, it’s clear that live entertainment in the form of sports is a major priority for NBC moving forward.
“Putting Big Ten on every Saturday night in prime time was a way for us to invest differently in content and not as much in necessarily scripted entertaining programming, but live sports and live events,” Lazarus said. “Live continues to be critical, whether it’s sports or entertainment events that are live, and then we are a big news company. So live continues to be valuable, whether it’s through media or in-venue.”