NBA Considers Adding Streaming Services to Media Rights Mix

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is on the brink of a significant shift in its media rights strategy as it exits an exclusive negotiation period with its long-standing partners, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery.

by Faruk Imamovic
NBA Considers Adding Streaming Services to Media Rights Mix
© Getty Images/Stacy Revere

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is on the brink of a significant shift in its media rights strategy as it exits an exclusive negotiation period with its long-standing partners, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery. This strategic move could redefine how fans engage with one of the world's premier sports leagues.

Exclusive Negotiations and Potential New Partners

The NBA's exclusive window with Disney and Warner Bros. began on March 9 and will conclude on Monday. This period allowed the league to discuss rights only with its current partners before considering new media possibilities. Despite ongoing and positive discussions highlighted by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, no definitive agreements have been finalized with either company. The league now looks set to explore options with potentially three or four new partners in its upcoming deal.

Historically, the NBA's broadcasts have been split between ESPN/ABC and TNT, a deal that has brought in an average of $2.7 billion annually over nine years. However, with that agreement set to expire after the 2024-25 season, the league is positioned to enhance its media strategy by incorporating a streaming component. Potential newcomers such as Amazon and NBC are already being touted as likely additions to the NBA's media landscape.

The shift in strategy was initially reported by CNBC and further supported by statements from Adam Silver, who remains optimistic about the NBA’s prospects in the evolving market. Silver's strategy aligns the negotiation timelines of the league's international contracts, which allows for simultaneous global rights marketing, thereby increasing flexibility and potential market reach.

A Changing Media Landscape and the Inclusion of the WNBA

This round of negotiations marks a distinct change from past practices. Previously, Disney and Turner Sports acted swiftly to secure NBA rights exclusively, countering any potential moves by other networks like Fox. This time, however, both companies have adopted a more conservative spending approach, likely opening the door for additional partners.

In an interesting twist, the negotiations also include discussions about the media rights for the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), which are up for renewal after the 2025 season. Warner Bros. Discovery has expressed interest in these rights, indicating a possible expansion in coverage and investment in women's basketball.

Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum highlighted the evolving media landscape's impact on the NBA's approach during a recent appearance on "The Domonique Foxworth Show". Tatum emphasized the likelihood of welcoming at least one new media partner as the league explores opportunities beyond the traditional broadcast models.

NBA Considers Adding Streaming Services to Media Rights Mix
NBA Considers Adding Streaming Services to Media Rights Mix© Getty Images/Sarah Stier

Record-Breaking Attendance and Viewer Engagement

Amidst these strategic shifts, the NBA continues to enjoy robust fan engagement, as evidenced by the latest attendance records. The 2023-24 season saw record-setting figures in total and average attendance, percentage of capacity sold, and number of sellouts. Notably, twelve teams sold out every one of their home games, a testament to the league's strong market presence.

These attendance records coincide with significant viewership numbers on digital and social media platforms. Players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Victor Wembanyama, and Luka Dončić have driven viewer engagement, collectively surpassing one billion views. The season's most-watched play—a dynamic sequence featuring Dončić's steal and subsequent alley-oop dunk by Derrick Jones Jr.—alone attracted 250 million views, underscoring the global appeal of the NBA's stars and their moments of athletic brilliance.

Expansion and Digital Innovation

The timing of the NBA's next media rights deal is crucial as it may also influence the league's expansion plans. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has previously noted that league expansion would be a significant agenda item following the collective bargaining agreement and the media rights negotiations. The current collective bargaining agreement was ratified in April 2023, setting the stage for these discussions.

Expansion could bring new teams into the league, which would not only increase the NBA's geographical footprint but also its fan base and market penetration. Such moves would require careful consideration of the media landscape to ensure new and existing markets are effectively served, potentially increasing the value and reach of future media deals.

Moreover, the NBA's proactive approach to digital media and streaming options highlights its commitment to staying ahead in a rapidly changing entertainment environment. By integrating streaming into their media rights strategy, the NBA is positioning itself to capture a younger, more digitally savvy audience. This approach aligns with current trends where traditional cable viewership is declining, and streaming services are becoming increasingly popular.

Leveraging the WNBA

The inclusion of the WNBA's rights in the NBA's media negotiations underscores a strategic approach to elevate women's sports. As interest in the WNBA grows, securing robust media partnerships could amplify its visibility and commercial viability. Warner Bros. Discovery's interest in the WNBA rights suggests potential for increased investment and coverage, which could lead to greater audience engagement and broader support for women's professional basketball.

This strategy not only promotes gender equity in sports media but also capitalizes on the growing market for women's sports, providing fans with more diverse content and supporting the growth of the game at all levels.