Friday, September 27, 2013

NBA Rights Picture Becoming Clearer

It's looking more and more like all of the NBA's current partners are staying put. With Turner signing a bunch of NBA reporters for Bleacher Report/NBATV as well as hiring new analysts like Grant Hill and T-Mac, there's no way Turner is getting rid of the NBA. Why invest so much money in talent to have to get rid of them eventually? Can't keep all those guys for March Madness.

Obviously, ESPN depends on the NBA for topics of discussion on all of it's shows and uses the NBA as it's primary winter programming and the brands have basically more interchangeable than ever before. ESPN has an interesting way of approaching it's NFL coverage, basically become a mini-NFL Network by finding different ways of producing mass amounts of NFL studio programming (NFL Live, NFL Insiders, NFL Matchup, Monday NFL Countdown, Sunday NFL Countdown, Colin Cowherd's Football Show, Fantasy Football Now, Audibles, Mike and Mike's Best of NFL etc.)

I think with this new NBA deal, ESPN will probably find a way to do the same with ESPN2 and turn it into a mini-NBATV adding a bunch of NBA studio programming from different angles to increase the sport's presence on the network even more. ESPN2 already has the urban, younger and hipper audience anyways with 1st Take, NNL and SportsNation so it could work. Because of this, there's no way that they are getting rid of the NBA either.

The only other question is whether Fox Sports 1, which barely has any winter programming and is still struggling with the ratings battle vs. ESPN, will also join the fray. In my opinion, there's no way they don't get basketball as well (The Big Lead has said it's basically a guarantee that they'll be broadcasting NBA of some type). The NBA benefits from more exposure and Fox benefits because they can use the platform to cross-promote other big sports projects they have such as the UFC, which has also made a downturn spiral on ratings since joining Fox (which Fox will probably own by the time they start broadcasting NBA). 

The NFL and MLB have had major success with sharing multiple television partners and because of their success, the NBA will be probably be more comfortable with that type of format as well. (Adam Silver was one of the big invitees at FS1's launch party)

The only questions when it comes to the NBA on television moving forward is 

  1. The formalities of the deals, who gets the #1 package and OTA rights which include the NBA Finals
  2. How are the All-Star game festivities split up this time around with another partner added?
  3. Is Charles Barkley going to continue as an NBA analyst?
  4. Who takes control of the NBA Digital/NBATV rights?

When it comes to the #1 package and OTA rights, Turner could possibly partner with an OTA (CBS, NBC) to take those parts of the rights as well as the Sunday afternoon games OR ESPN could keep that package on ABC OR Fox might take them since they aren't afraid of preempting entertainment programming for sports.

I predict that out of all those possibilities, ESPN is the most likely to stay with the #1 package. ABC affiliates would be irate if they lost another sports package after losing out on the BCS and the NFL to ESPN. I would expect that some NBA Finals matchups would move to ESPN, but I would be shocked if Games 4-7 would ever be placed on cable anytime soon. Those games are here to stay on ABC.

I also predict that ESPN will keep the celeb game and that Turner and Fox will interchange All-Star Saturday and the All-Star Game itself every year.

Once Fox gets a package, I would also be on the lookout to see where Charles Barkley goes. Does he stay at Turner? Does he go to Fox because they're in the west coast closer to Arizona and they offer him more opportunities to do play-by-play? Or does he just take a break from everything and just do radio hits once in a while or maybe go into NBA management of some type. That's the biggest NBA television move which no one is talking about in my opinion. 

And if he stays at Turner, what do they offer him that makes him less bored? More time off? A podcast?

If I had to predict this situation, I would say that Charles stays at Turner for the 1st 2 years and then takes a year long break, gets bored and decides to join "Inside the NBA" again for a couple more years.

NBA Digital's contract with Turner is also expiring in 2016 and that contract is up for bidding as well. It's very unlikely that the NBA takes a similar route and goes back to producing it's own content like the NFL Network and MLB Network because they don't have the resources to do it as of right now. The Secaucus, New Jersey studios which they used to use have been taken down and aren't used as much for the most part.

The most likely move is that Turner will renew their contract, but I wouldn't be surprised if Fox tried to take a swing at things as well since they already operate and produce the Big Ten Network's content.

The biggest news in the sports media world today is that there are reports coming in to the Big Lead that Michelle Beadle is leaving NBC Sports to rejoin ESPN. She's not getting along with management very well and is looking for a way out to go back to the Worldwide Leader.

When I heard this, I was shocked but not surprised, especially when you read the details of how Beadle was told her show was cancelled went down. But my question is, where does Beadle fit into the equation at the WWL? She's not really a reporter or journalist and hasn't done much studio work for a specific sport.

Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Host of NBA Countdown. She's not well versed on the X's and O's of basketball but has strong opinions on the culture of the NBA, has experience working sidelines for the Spurs before she got picked up by ESPN and she has better hosting chops that Jalen Rose, Magic Johnson, Bill Simmons and Doug Collins. She would be able to spark up some debate and would change the role of a studio host, who is typically supposed to be objective. Plus she's a woman! And that show needs a lot more estrogen!

2. The Jason Whitlock Show with Michelle Beadle. I couldn't tell you what timelot fits best for a show like this but Whitlock and Beadle are good buddies and have podcasted together before so the chemistry is there. They both also have a deep fondness for pop culture and would be able mesh pop culture together with sports in a really fun, informative way. She's good at setting people up to say outreagous things and is also good at making not so likable people become likable (I love Whitlock but a lot of people don't for some reason).

3. Save SportsNation. SportsNation is on the verge of being cancelled at any point. Max and Marcellus do a great show together and host an even better sports talk show in LA but the show has become really bland and boring. If you gave the show back to Michelle and had her playing different games going against various analysts and hosts at ESPN, it would probably bring old SportsNation fans like myself back to the show.

4. The Michelle Beadle Podcast. Steal the NFL Network's Rich Eisen Podcast idea and put Michelle Beadle in there instead. Have Beadle interview different stars about sports and Hollywood, the two things which she loves the most.

5. Live outdoor uncensored show. Give her a late night or middle of the afternoon live, uncensored off the cuff show which features a mix of athletes, celebrities, ESPN analysts and have them talk about various sports subject in an hour long "The View" type formatted show. Put the show outdoors at various sporting events or even at different college campuses every week. With the schedule already so filled up on ESPN and ESPN2, I could see that type of show on ESPNU or ESPNEWS.

For now, I expect her to stay at NBC and increase her role on the Today Show and Access Hollywood. Maybe NBC could even make her a 2nd sideline reporter/social media correspondent for SNF to keep her occupied sports wise and have her do interviews with stars that are at all the various SNF games each week. In the future though, I wouldn't be surprised if she makes the ESPN move only because there's really nowhere else to go.

Turner's only 24/7 sports network only focuses on basketball and isn't even owned by them (NBATV), CBS would take her out of the sports conversation like it has for Jim Rome and Erin Andrews works for Fox and they're fierce enemies. If Beadle were to go to ESPN, I wouldn't surprised if she's thrown into the reporter pool at GMA and maybe even does some work with the sports/comedy shows at ABC News' new network, Fusion.

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