By Barry Janoff
October 6, 2014: For the next 11 years, if you want to watch the NBA on TV and a bevy of other devices, it will be "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel," as they used to say on the 1960s TV show Batman.
The NBA has unveiled new TV deals with its current media partners, ESPN-ABC (owned by Disney Corp). and TNT (Time Warner-Turner) that begin in 2016-17 and run through the 2024-25 season.
However, in terms of live games and access to the league via Internet, social media, mobile and other activations, the pacts build on and enhance the NBA's current alliances. With Turner, that dates back to 1984 (and to the mid-1970s counting Atlanta Hawks coverage) and with ABC back to 1965-73 and then uninterrupted with ESPN and ABC since 2002.
The value of the new deals was put at $24 billion, according to industry analysts, almost triple the league's current pacts with its partners.
The contracts pick up when the current eight-year pacts expire following the 2015-16 season.
"We decided to renew our agreements with Turner and Disney two years early because they have been terrific partners and they each share responsibility for the tremendous growth and popularity of our game," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during a media conference in New York on Monday morning (Oct. 6) that also included Turner Broadcasting System president David Levy, ESPN president and Disney Media Networks co-chairman John Skipper and Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Wizards and chairman of the NBA’s Media Committee.
"With these new agreements, our passionate fans will continue to benefit from the exceptional NBA coverage and programming provided by ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV, along with their digital platforms," said Silver.
The expansion of coverage drives into areas that were barely glimmers in the eyes and minds of their developers when the NBA began these media alliances, such as Internet, social media, digital and mobile; as well as platforms including the WNBA, NBA Development League, NBA International and the Summer League.
The commissioner half-jokingly said that these negotiations began "the day after we [signed] our last deal," but was more serious when he said, "We have been negotiating fairly intensively [since] February . . . Over the last several weeks, we literally have been going around the clock to finish these deals and we were determined to get them done before the season started.
Silver, who moved up from deputy commissioner on Feb. 1 to replace 30-year commissioner David Stern, also said that the league had "discussions but not negotiations" with Comcast and Fox.
"We have extensive relationships with those companies; 17 of our teams are in business with Fox in the RSN business, eight or nine of our teams, depending on the Comcast-Time Warner cable merger, will be in business with Comcast," said Silver. "And so we know them well. We had talks with them. We also had a sense of where the emerging potential content acquirers are: the Googles, the Apples and companies like that."
"Turner and the NBA first started working together in 1984, and I have to say, it was a priority for our company to extend this important business relationship," said Levy. "By the time this deal [is] completed, the NBA and Turner will be together for more than 40 years, and that's a long time for any relationship, let alone between a sports league and a media company.
"This deal is significant for Turner and locks in some of the most valuable and premium sports programming well into the next decade," Levy continued. "The NBA has been a consistent and strong property for us and the brand continues to deliver on so many levels."
According to Levy, from a ratings perspective, the NBA on TNT "holds nine of the top ten programs airing on the network. The ratings are consistently good during the regular season and even stronger during the playoffs."
Silver and company gave major credence to the fact that the NBA is a star-driven league, with a current crop of players who pump up ratings, merchandise and ticket sales and marketing domestically and internationally. In turn, these players recognize their value to the NBA and media rights deals. Unnamed but at the top of the list of players whose current contracts make them unrestricted free agents after the 2015-16 season are LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
"This deal is significant for Turner . . . The NBA has been a consistent and strong property for us and the brand continues to deliver on so many levels."
"Certain agents and players have been timing their contracts so that they would become free agents in '16 -'17, knowing that we were going to be entering into new television agreements," said Silver. "Under our current [CBA], where the players, depending on the amount of revenue that comes in, get 50 or 51%, in essence, of the gross revenue. When this deal kicks in in 2016-17, it will lead to a substantial increase that year in the salary cap."
Silver stressed, and the others agreed, that these new deals "demonstrate the value of live sports in a DVR world, particularly NBA content,"
"This deal . . . continues ESPN's long-stated strategy to invest in a portfolio of live rights," said Skipper. "And this is a key property for us given the ascendant nature of the league and allows us, along with the other rights that we hold, many of which we hold into the next century, to make sure that ESPN maintains its position in the sports media landscape.
"And this deal, like all the deals we do, contemplates a broad swath of rights that allows us to build new businesses, to engage our fans on new technologies and new platforms, and if you look across all of our platforms, we have got a number of new rights in this deal."
Under the agreements, the partners would air more national regular-season games (ABC-ESPN: 100; Turner: 64) and would continue for the most part a schedule that includes Wednesdays (ESPN), Thursdays (TNT), Fridays (ESPN) and Sundays (ABC-ESPN). ESPN retains coverage of the NBA Draft and Draft Lottery and some pre-All-Star Game events, with the All-Star Game itself on TNT.
The NBA’s 24-hour NBA TV network would air more than 100 regular-season games each season on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Saturday.
The NBA and Turner would also continue their partnership to manage jointly the NBA’s digital assets, including NBA TV, NBA.com, NBA Mobile, NBA League Pass, and WNBA.com, which Turner operates out of its Atlanta production facility.
In addition, TNT will telecast annually a new NBA Awards Show at the end of each season season, and will have "expanded activation opportunities surrounding key NBA pillars" such as Opening Night and NBA All-Star Week.
Under the agreement, ESPN will be granted enhanced digital rights to provide NBA content for multiple ESPN platforms, including ESPN.com and WatchESPN.
Also established was a framework for ESPN and the NBA to negotiate the launch of a new over-the-top offering in which the league would receive an equity interest. Details will be unveiled at a future date.
Under a new deal with the WNBA, games will continue to be televised on ABC and ESPN/ESPN2 through the 2025 season. ESPN also will have enhanced in-progress highlight rights for the WNBA on digital and linear platforms.
”The NBA has never been more popular globally and it continues to grow under Adam’s leadership,” said Skipper. “By acquiring significantly more NBA content on both existing and yet-to-be created platforms, we will establish a vibrant year-round relationship with the NBA and bolster what is already the sports industry’s most impressive and impactful collection of media rights.”
"It's important to note from an ownership perspective, that it's a global and national deal," said Leonsis. "But local is still obviously a big driver of what the league is all about, and we do have transcendent stars that cut across the world, but we didn't give up any rights locally and we protected each ownership's individual franchise. So we see this being a really, really important deal that celebrates the power of this kind of programming.
"As Adam noted, I feel like I work for the players," said Leonsis. "They are getting 51%, and we did a really, really good job for them and the rising ride will raise all boats, and it's one of the great things that makes the league so competitive. We have great players, they are charismatic and the fans want to watch them and by being able to pay them more money and keep your free agents and go into free agency, I think it will make for a very exciting time for our fans in the out years."
Photos: NBA TV (3), TNT
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