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NBA Rights Contracts Hit Adam Silver’s Desk With All Eyes on TNT



NBA Rights Contracts Hit Adam Silver’s Desk With All Eyes on TNT

The NBA has taken a crucial step in mapping out the next dozen years of its media strategy, as the league’s would-be partners, at long last, have submitted their respective contracts to commissioner Adam Silver.

The 11-year deals would grant rights to NBC and Amazon Prime Video, with ABC/ESPN remaining the home of the NBA Finals, and total payments of nearly $76 billion to the NBA. Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT would be left out if the deals go through.

Drafts of the legal papers have been in revision since late May, but today’s document transfer marks the first official step in bringing the rights process to fruition. That said, the bubbly will remain on ice for at least the next week or so, as a few key steps must be completed before the NBA can get the party started at 645 Fifth Avenue.

The next step will see the league’s board of governors rubberstamp the new $75.9 billion slate, which will run from the 2025-26 NBA season through 2035-36. That confirmation is expected to come early next week. After the board gives its approval, the NBA will deliver the papers to Warner Bros. Discovery, whereupon the legacy rightsholder will have five days to make a matching bid for one of the non-Disney packages.

News of the contractual handoff was first reported by Andrew Marchand at The Athletic.

Unless WBD’s attorneys can find and exploit a loophole in the contractual jargon, it seems highly unlikely that the NBA will return to TNT after next season. While most contracts of this nature include language that gives the rightsholder an opportunity to match “all material terms and conditions,” the standard interpretation says WBD is unable meet the latter, as the “conditions” part generally covers particulars related to platforms.

The NBA would prefer to minimize its exposure to the ever-dwindling pay-TV bundle—under the new Disney deal, ESPN will carry approximately 20% fewer regular-season games than it will under the final year of its current contract—and unlike Comcast, WBD doesn’t own a big-reach broadcast TV network. Reach is everything, and WBD’s is waning in direct proportion to the cord-cutting bug; per Nielsen, NBC currently enjoys a 15 million household reach advantage over TNT.

With NBC back in the saddle, the league will be all over the broadcast dial, as Comcast plans to air weekly primetime games on the flagship network, with a regular Sunday night game joining the rotation after the end of the NFL season. ABC also airs a slate of 15 regular-season games on Sunday afternoons as well as in select Saturday prime windows.

A WBD run at matching the streaming offer is also likely to come up short, as Max’s global subscriber count (99.6 million) is roughly half the scope of Amazon’s.

TNT began losing its grip on its 40-year partnership with the NBA in the spring, after failing to come to terms on a renewal during an exclusive negotiating window that slammed shut on April 22. While Disney’s team was putting together what amounts to a $27.5 billion extension, WBD CEO David Zaslav tendered what the league regarded as a lowball offer. After Comcast swooped in with its own $28.6 billion bid, which landed at around the same time Amazon waved around some $19.8 billion in media bucks, Zaslav began floating the idea of a counteroffer.

Should the NBA’s owners approve the papered offers during next week’s planned board meeting, WBD would have to exercise its claim to make a matching bid no later than July 21. If Zaslav & Co. throw in the towel—and WBD’s recent shopping spree suggests that the C-suite has long been resigned to parting ways with the NBA—an official announcement will be forthcoming well before LeBron, Steph and the rest of Team USA tip off against Serbia in Lille, France, on July 28.

On the other hand, if WBD’s counsel thinks there’s a real shot at boxing out either usurper, the ensuing legal battle could very well bleed into the 2024-25 season. In the meantime, Silver appears to be that much closer to taking a well-earned vacation.

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