The NBA’s broadcast rights deals don’t expire until after the 2016 season has ended, but at least one of its current partners is already posturing for when it’s time to renew that very expensive commitment.
ESPN expects to retain its rights to televise NBA games, and that much isn’t a surprise.
But downplaying the rise of the Internet in terms of the percentage of fans that want to receive their content that way versus over traditional cable network channels could be a misstep ahead of the negotiations.
ESPN President John Skipper said the net is intent on remaining a broadcast partner with the NBA and he expects “to be aggressive in doing that.” Skipper said during ESPN’s Media Day yesterday, “There are plenty of live sports rights, but the ones that make a difference are scarce.” He called the NBA a “critical product” for ESPN and added there are “not many things that move the needle like that.” The net’s current rights deal expires after the ’15-16 season, and there have been rumors Fox will make a heavy play for the NBA to add content to the new FS1.
Skipper addressed speculation that web-based platforms are increasingly competing for major sports rights, saying, “It is incomprehensible to me that the NBA would decide to put their games on a digital platform, and that sports fans are going to make a transformation, saying, ‘I’m going to go to Yahoo to watch my games tonight.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think they have any way to monetize those rights in the same way that traditional (networks can).”
This obviously doesn’t play into ESPN’s monetization strategy, but more and more people are looking to cut the cord from the bloated offerings they receive from their local cable companies in favor of paying for only the content they deem relevant, and consuming it over an Internet stream.
To be honest, I’ve been looking for a solution like this for quite some time. I literally never turn on my television (or the attached cable box) unless I’m trying to watch live sporting events in real time. All other content I’m interested in seeing I can get at a later time online, and I’m happy to pay for it if that option exists.
The future is going to involve networks like ESPN offering their content for an Internet-only price, much like the NBA already has available with its League Pass Broadband option, which is largely fantastic — save for the fact that games shown on NBA TV, TNT, or ABC have been historically excluded from the package.
But for ESPN and others, holding broadcast rights to the NBA will only make that a more appealing proposition to the network’s paying customers.