The NBA agreed to a new television deal which will nearly triple the television rights coming into the league starting with the 2017 season.
Ostensibly, there are very few changes. Games will be on ESPN and TNT still. The nights will change very little too. TNT may get a few off-Thursday nights and the schedule may allow for flex scheduling so the league can make sure important games are on TV and we will not get saddled with mediocre Lakers on television 20-plus times.
So what will fans get out of this new TV deal that has the NBA swimming through cash like Scrooge McDuck? Let’s explore some:
1) Flexible games
As noted above, one of the big changes in the NBA’s new TV deal is that the league is open to adding flex scheduling to its premier national television games — particularly the featured TNT Thursday night games.
Currently, the league schedules at most three games for Thursday nights, allowing TNT to feature “premiere” games without any other basketball competition. This often involves the league trying to predict which teams will generate ratings, leaving fans with sometimes awful choices for games — you have to love mediocre teams in big markets getting the preferential treatment even late in the season.
Better games, specifically as the season winds down, and more flexibility in the schedule to give nationally television audiences the best games possible. It seemed irrational to have the Lakers and Knicks on 20-plus times and even late in the season last year while the Wizards and Suns had one appearance each. For Washington, especially, the Playoffs were the team’s first major appearance on a national stage. Only NBA junkies really knew who this team was.
The new scheduling and ability for TNT to better pick its matchups as the season progresses will ensure that the best games are on TV when they matter most.
2) Digital Access
The really groundbreaking idea coming out of the new television rights has to do with digital access to league games.
Currently the league retains most of the digital rights to games, sending them out through its League Pass program. Nationally televised games however are only available through cable subscriptions through Watch ESPN or the like. Watching a TNT game online can be a bit tricky, and it may still remain so.
However the new television rights deal leaves open the possibility for ESPN to provide nationally televised games online without requiring a cable subscription.
This is an incredibly innovative and new way to do things. For so long, these television rights have been tied to the networks and the cable companies. The NBA and ESPN seem to be preparing to take an unprecedented step to make nationally televised games available without a cable subscription.
The NBA is getting ahead of the trend (or is somewhere behind it, or whatever) in keeping the option open to create an all digital channel for the NBA and NBA games. Who knows if additional programming would come with it or if it is only the ESPN-televised games. The opportunities are endless.
3) Ads are coming
There is no avoiding it. Ads are coming to NBA jerseys.
And as part of the new television deal, advertisements on jerseys are part of the equation.
The television deal included a split of revenues coming from ads on jerseys with Turner set to put advertisements on All-Star uniforms in 2017:
Sources involved in the discussions said the two networks will receive a cut of any team’s jersey sponsorship deal that is signed by a national brand that would have bought time on ESPN or TNT’s NBA game telecasts — think Coca-Cola or Samsung. The networks will either get a straight payout from the deal, or they will receive specific commitments from the sponsor to buy additional TV advertising during games, a network source said.
This is pretty big. It is the first concrete signal that the NBA is preparing to put advertisements on their jerseys, much like soccer jerseys in the United States and around the world. Many international basketball teams already have advertisements on their jerseys. It is not so crazy an idea.
But in the United States, this idea is met with horror and anger. There is no denying it is coming though.
4) Cable bills will increase
This is the potentially bad news of the new TV deal. Increased fees for TV rights get passed onto the consumer — even if they do not want ESPN.
The way the cable business is set up right now is the cable companies have to pay a fee to the cable channels to carry their network. That is why you will sometimes see FOX pull all their channels or Viacom (CBS) pull all of their channels off cable trying to negotiate an increased carriage fee.
ESPN is currently the most expensive one of these and cable companies would not dare drop that network because live sports are the last bastion for guaranteed live watching on cable television. Even this might be changing as digital access to games increases.
Cable companies spread around the cost of these increased usage fees. Undoubtedly to make back some of the costs for this massive rights deal by increasing their carriage rates. That means cable bills will be increasing, whether you watch the NBA or not.
There has already been agitation from some players about the league’s increased television rights deal. Kevin Durant hinted he would like to see the max contract abolished. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James both made comments to the effect of: the owners cannot be crying poor now.
In other words, the players are expecting to take back some of the revenue they lost in the last round of collective bargaining. There is a bigger pie and the players want their share of it.
The owners are not about to give up a favorable deal with more money coming in. And this will be Adam Silver’s first solo collective bargaining as commissioner and Michelle Roberts will make her debut for the NBPA. A work stoppage seems inevitable.
Is it the kind of work stoppage that will cost games in the season though? That is the part nobody seems to know. Maybe the influx of cash will allow the owners to give a little bit to keep labor peace and keep the money rolling in for the league.
There will be a momentary stoppage though, it seems inevitable. And the players will not be happy if they do not get something in return for all the revenue coming in with this deal.