Last week, the first real information about negotiations for the NBA’s next national television contracts came to light. The current deals, both with TNT and ESPN/ABC, are set to expire in 2016. By that time, ESPN will have carried the broadcast rights to the NBA longer than NBC, their broadcast network predecessor. Meanwhile, considering the fact TNT has carried the NBA since 1988, the (inarguable) fact that TNT hosts the best studio show in sports history, and the fact Turner Sports has taken over operations for NBA TV, there is a zero percent chance Turner doesn’t keep that gravy train rolling.
Thus, the only likely battle lies between the broadcast networks. And that’s where things get interesting. Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger claims the NBA is a cornerstone of the ESPN lineup:
“It’s certainly a priority of ESPN to extend their relationship with the league,” Iger said. “I think the league would believe that it would (be) beneficial for them as well to stay on ESPN which is a very, very important platform for them.”
“I don’t want to sound in any way as though we’re complacent, but I think it would be safe to assume that we’re reasonably confident that we will be able to extend that relationship.”
ESPN had better hope they don’t get complacent, because NBC Sports and Fox Sports 1 will absolutely be gunning for those rights. This ain’t 2002 all over again, when ESPN inherited a league mired in the equivalent of MLB’s dead-ball era (the overly-defensive, offensively-challenged, post-lockout, still-reeling-from-expansion era). Times have changed, and there is some real competition this time around. Also, it’s worth mentioning that ESPN has an exclusive re-negotiation window, which means we won’t know much more abut the proceedings until next spring, most likely.
Until then, enjoy some of the best YouTube has to offer of the glory days of NBA broadcasting. Oh, and regardless of who ultimately wins the rights, nobody will ever do an intro like NBC did in the 1990s.