The NBA's television rights are up for renewal soon and it looks like it may be a television battle for the ages. The incumbents, ESPN and Turner, face the stiffest competition they've ever had in the industry with the emergence of all new 24/7 sports networks as well as Internet television providers who are all content hungry.
If my life depended on it, I would have to predict that ESPN and Turner would renew their deals and nothing new changes but there are other scenarios which could come into play.
Scenario 1: ESPN and Turner keep their rights
This is the most likely scenario. ESPN has built its brand around basketball and has invested a lot of money into the production behind telecasts as well as basketball related journalism online. It's embrace debate shows also depend on marquee basketball headlines and ESPN recently doubled the amount of WNBA it would show for the next 10 years so without a doubt ESPN is a lock.
Turner recently lost its rights to NASCAR and with some extra money in their arsenal, after paying an increase in fees for baseball and college basketball; Turner is also here to stay.
There could be a situation where Turner cedes its #1 standing with the league to ESPN but in the end it keeps basketball
Scenario 2: ESPN keeps its share, takes the All-Star Game; Turner keeps Thursday night games, Fox gets a new slate of games plus conference finals
So far ESPN's plan of keeping NBCSN quiet has succeeded and despite NBC Sports having the #1 program on TV aka SNF and owning rights to the Olympics; they haven't been able to transfer the ratings power of those events into their 24/7 network.
In order to keep Comcast from trying to raise an eventual replacement for ESPN and a reason for a carriage fight in the future, ESPN may encourage/partner with Fox and Turner to keep the rights away from NBC
Scenario 3: ESPN keeps its slate, Fox takes Turner's slate
The NBA has always been a money hungry league and even though Turner has been their partner for over 30 years, operates their TV network and website ventures; they may just say goodbye because of the money in order to compete with the other leagues who've also seen an increase in fees.
Due to Turner's investment in college basketball and baseball as well as their commitment to moving towards original programming, they may not have enough money to stay competitive and even if the league appreciates their efforts to promote the league for so long, it may not be enough to move forward
No one ever thought the NBA or the NFL would leave CBS; but it happened. Eventually football came back, and it leaves room for NBA to come back to Turner but as for now, all good things must come to an end
Scenario 4: ESPN keeps its slate, Turner and NBC share the other slate and take away ABC's rights
Turner has teamed up with NBC before for NASCAR, knows how thirsty NBCSN is for content and knows how broke they are compared to ESPN and Fox, so what do they do? Partner with NBC
In the past while speaking about the NCAA deal with CBS, David Levy has said he wasn't afraid to team up with another organization separately and that Turner wasn't exclusive to CBS or vice versa meaning that this is very possible.
This move could propel a basketball version of The Baseball Network but with a little more success. Charles Barkley is already friendly with NBC, having guest hosted SNL, analyzed football during Wild Card Weekend and being good friends with NBC head Mark Lazurus who worked for Turner one time.
Charles (and other Turner personalities) could get his own show on NBCSN and give Turner a 24/7 platform for producing sports programming which they don't already have.
NBCSN gets programming to fill their winter schedule and with a partner in Turner they are not held in awkward situations where they are conflicted between hockey and basketball because they can show hockey on a night when basketball is on Turner
NBC is also not afraid to preempt regular programming for sports since their entertainment programming sucks so broadcasting the Finals shouldn't be an issue
SURPRISES THAT COULD HAPPEN BUT PROBABLY WON'T
1. CBS hasn't bid aggressively for its new cable network, even taking away the few NCAATourney games that CBSSN had and giving them to TruTV, is this the one shining moment CBS has been waiting for to make the channel relevant?
2. Fox has always been friendly competition for ESPN, helping them defeat NBC (who has been ESPN's biggest rival for the last couple of years) but now that Fox is starting a sports network, could they be becoming ESPN's chief foe? Trash talk between both PR groups already exists and it could go even further if Fox shocks the world and bids an enormous number to take ESPN off of one of its biggest marquee brands just like what they did with the World Cup and the BCS. It's very unlikely but it is possible. Either way, if Fox gets the NBA, expect Gus Johnson to slowly get taken off soccer and become the preeminent voice for college and pros on the network
3. If NBC wins any rights by sharing with Turner (way more likely than bidding on its own after overspending on NASCAR), expect them to go full court press on Yahoo's Woj. Yahoo Sports is a partner with NBC Sports but I doubt that would stop them from wanting to make Woj one of their own.
They would probably offer him a seat on their studio show, his own site in conjunction with Yahoo and some sideline reporting gigs in order to bring a legitimate face to their franchise; NBC, more than any other sports TV outfit, is lacking on the digital side. Besides PFT and mooching off of Yahoo's page views, NBC Sports Digital is not up to par with ESPN, Fox or even Turner's Bleacher Report which is why NBC would use this opportunity to beef up its basketball coverage online with a star.
4. If Turner wins, they're definitely going to try to get some games on the Bleacher Report or maybe start an NFL RedZone style broadcast for B/R and NBA.com
5. Or a small package of games could be acquired by Google or AOL which would include an NFL RedZone style broadcast of NBA games every night. Unlike its TV partners, the NBA would probably produce anything broadcasted on this package of games. Netflix, Apple and Amazon could also contend for these rights but none of these outfits seem ready to invest in live programming and/or they might be saving up for the NFL Sunday Ticket rights which expire soon
6. DirecTV or Time Warner Cable could acquire a package and ownership/operating rights to NBATV and turn it into a basketball centric national sports network whose main focus is basketball but also delves into other sports; a basketball centric sports network. Similar to MASN which is a baseball centric network that once in a while features other sports.
CHECK OUT THE HOMEPAGE FOR MORE ARTICLES