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The current NBA rights deals with ESPN and TNT don’t expire until after next season, but we have been talking with sources throughout the industry to get their sense of how things might play out.
Like a mock draft, this is the SportsClicker NBA Media Deal Projection 1.0. This stuff is fluid and subject to change, but this is what I think will happen if I were betting today.
Current deal: ESPN currently pays around $1.4 billion per year. TNT’s number is $1.2 billion. ESPN, with ABC, is the home of the NBA Finals, while TNT has the All-Star Game. Both have the regular season and the playoffs.
The players: Negotiations can’t open to everyone officially until we begin to toward the end of this year and into 2024, but here are the likely candidates to get in: ESPN, TNT, Amazon, NBC, Apple and Fox.
CBS also will probably kick the tires — and could be a wild card if Turner or another entity tries to link a bid with a broadcast network — but, like Fox, we would put them in the longshot category. Not impossible, but not probable.
No matter how many media entities Adam Silver and the NBA decide to partner with, the league’s new rights deals should bring a sizable sum more than the $2.6 billion per year it got last time.Getty Images
SportsClicker NBA Media Deal Projection 1.0: Starting with the 2025-26 season, I think the NBA will go with four partners patterned after what we have seen from the latest NFL and MLB deals.
The winners: The SportsClicker Projection 1.0 envelope, please. And the winners are … ESPN, Warner Brothers Discovery Sports, Amazon and NBC.
What will the package look like: Let’s go one by one.
1. ESPN: It keeps The Finals. For now, I’ll predict that will be every year, but I do think there will be competition.
ESPN, mirroring its latest MLB deal, will have a nice regular season schedule, but fewer games. It currently broadcasts around 100 games per season. The new deal might include just a Wednesday doubleheader on ESPN and a standalone ABC marquee game on Saturdays. ESPN will keep its playoff package.
ESPN’s Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen can be expected to still be a regular presence during the NBA regular season, though perhaps with a slimmer schedule of broadcasts.NBAE via Getty Images
It will be in on the potential in-season tournament, but may not get it.
2. Amazon Prime Video: Amazon takes over the Thursday night package from TNT with an exclusive doubleheader. It will start the week after Thursday Night Football. Amazon can tag it, “We own Thursdays!” (You’re welcome, Amazonians).
Amazon also receives the playoff games that currently are on NBA TV and adds a little more playoff inventory, but no conference finals or Finals.
3. NBC: NBC is back in. It’s about money and relationships. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBC Chairman of Television and Streaming, Mark Lazarus, go way back to Lazarus’ Turner days. This is important.
No, Ahmad Rashad and the 1990s Bulls won’t be making a return to NBC Sports, but the NBA might be.NBAE via Getty Images
Again, the NBA will use the NFL playbook. After “Sunday Night Football” ends, Sunday Night Basketball begins. It would be a seamless transition. NBC gets an annual conference final and maybe — we aren’t there yet — The Finals every other year.
4. TNT: It gets a full season package split between TNT and HBO Max (which will be called just Max by then), but limited to just Tuesday doubleheaders. I’m not positive TNT keeps the NBA, but TNT will give it a strong effort. The NBA, however, could decide that three partners, not four, is the right call for the league.
At this point, I will keep TNT in, but it will be at a reduced package. If they were to lose the NBA, it would likely create a bidding war for Charles Barkley and the “Inside The NBA” crew akin to the NFL TV broadcasting mayhem from last year.
It would be hard to imagine NBA coverage without Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, but TNT’s involvement with the league moving forward is anything but certain.NBAE via Getty Images
The wild card: We don’t have Apple in there. It seems a little ambivalent about sports and its plan is to try to get the whole shebang with packages, which is what it did with MLS. This means owning all the games.
The are smart, innovative and arrogant. If the score was at zero, their plan could work, but I don’t see the NBA blowing everything else up.
They could just get a regular package, like they did with MLB and Friday Night Baseball. Though Apple and MLB don’t reveal numbers, we have heard some things (not well enough to fully report), and I don’t think they did very well in Year 1. (More below on the latest).
How about the money: We are not going to make a prediction, except that the NBA is going to receive a very nice increase on the $2.6 billion per year it receives in its current deal. Probably not as ridiculous as what has been floated out there, but salaries will go up for the players because the TV and streaming numbers will.
Yankees fans should be accustomed to searching for game broadcasts on streaming services like Amazon, which again will have the club on a lot this season.Boston Globe via Getty Images
Most of the Yankees’ Amazon Prime Video games will be on Wednesdays this year, according to sources. Last year, in its first season, they were mainly on Fridays. Prime Video will have around 20 Yankes games again. … Adnan Virk is the new host with Harold Reynolds of MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight,” its nightly pregame show. Reynolds will be on the road more this season, and was in Tampa last week for a hitting demonstration with Aaron Judge that will air before Thursday’s Yankees opener. Matt Vasgersian and Tom Verducci will have the national call on Yankees and Giants. … You want to work in sports media? Play in New York. NHL Network added Brian Boyle, who joins Ken Daneyko, Steve Konroyd, Mark Parrish, Mike Rupp and Kevin Weekes as NHL Network analysts with ties to the Rangers, Devils or Islanders.
Rocket fuel for ESPN
Roger Clemens will be in ESPN’s booth for Opening Day, but his future with the network is “TBD.”Getty Images
Roger Clemens will be on ESPN’s Opening Day broadcast of the Astros-White Sox, and it could lead to a larger relationship.
“TBD,” Phil Orlins, ESPN vice president of production, who oversees the network’s baseball coverage, said of whether Clemens could play a more regular role going forward.
On Opening Day, Clemens will pinch-hit for David Cone, who work the Yankees’ opener on YES. Clemens will be in the booth with Eduardo Perez and play-by-player, Karl Ravech.
The seven-time Cy Young winner has been on the network before, appearing on the KayRod broadcast four times last year. He was pretty good in most of his appearances. For Clemens, who was linked to steroids and denied being voted into the Hall of Fame, it is a chance to further rehab his image in the public eye. The one thing that stood out during his spots last year is that his passion for the game is still strong. He was also knowledgeable. As ideas go, it’s not a bad one to see how Clemens sounds doing a game.
Amazon flex issues
The NFL’s plan to possibly use a flex schedule for late-season Thursday night games could make for some complicated travel arrangements for fans.Diamond Images/Getty Images
Maybe it doesn’t matter, but the NFL is going to cause an eruption from fans if it goes through with flex scheduling on its Thursday night Amazon games, as Sports Business Journal’s Ben Fischer and John Ourand reported, is on the table. From their story …
Specifically, the measure awaiting owners would permit the league to:
• Shift Sunday afternoon games to Thursday nights in weeks 14-17, with 15 days’ notice.
• Schedule teams for Thursday games after a previous Sunday game twice in the same season, up from the current limit of once.
The NFL is going to add flex scheduling for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” which will probably be used three to five times late in the year. It will be dependent on the matchups, of course.
While that may benefit the network, it will create major disruptions for fans who are scheduled to attend games. For one, home fans have to alter their plans, but, more significantly, visiting teams’ fans will be totally inconvenienced.
NFL fans travel in big numbers and it is really difficult to plan a trip for a 1 p.m. Sunday game that becomes an 8:15 game Monday. That will cause blowback, and it should.
But what about when the NFL takes your 1 p.m. Sunday start time and puts it on Thursday at 8 p.m? That will crush plans. It is really unfair.
Plus, I doubt players are going to like being on TNF twice in a year. As a viewer, we will be more enticed to watch strong standalone matchups, but it will be hard for the NFL to sell this as for the fans, at least all of them.
It will be better for viewers — and Al Michaels can’t be selling used cars, right?
Mention Apple TV+ to a baseball fan and there’s a good chance they won’t be excited to think different.Getty Images for Apple TV+
You see what we did there? Apple TV minus. (OK, that’s not great.) Anyway, the reason we are writing that is because Apple TV+ will now make it so you have to have pay $6.99 per month for the overall service subscription to watch Friday Night Baseball. This is not going to work well.
The difference between Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video is that tens of millions more people have Amazon Prime. So it is not as big a deal when the Yankees show up on it regularly. (It’s a deal, but once people get used to it, it is not as bad. And there is value in 20-plus games of your favorite team.)
On Apple TV+, teams can appear four times and it just annoys fan bases. Neither Apple nor MLB released any numbers of viewers, but we heard they were not good. Now, people without Apple TV+ are first going to have to find where their teams’ games are on and then, when they do, they will be doubly upset that they have to try a free trial to get the game.
You can’t blame Apple. It’s a business, but I think when you buy a product — even if it is a drop in the bucket, for them, of $85 million per year — you have to figure out if it works. I don’t see it with once-a-week baseball. Streaming works when it is exclusive content. This is like if Ted Lasso was on 15 stations every day of the week, but Apple had one episode on Friday. To twist a phrase: I don’t believe in it.
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