Disney’s ESPN currently holds exclusive TV rights to National Basketball Association games, and has said the network “hopes” to keep them, but a comment by the company’s CEO suggests that it may see the NBA as a nice-to-have rather than an essential part of its offering …
CNBC reports that NBC Sports, Apple, and Amazon are three companies that are interested in acquiring at least some of the rights, but none of them are able to make a formal bid at this stage.
Comcast’s NBCUniversal is preparing to make a strong bid to win back National Basketball Association broadcast rights more than 20 years after the company lost them to Disney
and Turner Sports, according to people familiar with the matter […]
Apple and Amazon have also expressed interest to the NBA in buying carved-out streaming packages, said people familiar with the matter. Amazon currently has a deal with the NBA allowing it to stream games in Brazil.
No formal discussions can take place with non-incumbent bidders unless Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns Turner Sports, and Disney agree to waive their exclusive negotiation windows, which end in April 2024, according to people familiar with the matter.
The report says that Disney is expected to make a bid to retain the rights, but a comment by CEO Bob Iger suggests that it may not be as generous an offer as the NBA would hope. NBA reporter Mike Vorkunov highlighted remarks made during the company’s recent earnings call.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said he hopes to keep NBA rights but he’s talked to ESPN prez Jimmy Pitaro that “we’re simply going to have to get more selective” in buying more sports rights, with intent to pivot ESPN from linear to ESPN+.
Iger said this on Disney’s earnings call last week:
“We’ve locked in a number of deals already, including some of the biggest ones, which is in college football with the SEC, as well as with the NFL. The one that’s looming is the NBA. I know that’s on people’s minds. Which is a product that we’ve enjoyed having and hope to continue to enjoy having. Because not only its volume, but its quality.”
He continued: “ESPN has been selective in the rights that they bought. I’ve had long conversations about this with Jimmy Pitaro, and we’ve got some decisions that we have to make coming up. Not on anything particularly large, but on a few things. And we’re simply going to have to get more selective. ESPN+ actually has grown nicely for us, and it’s shown us that the ESPN brand can be enjoyed and can be expressed well as a streaming brand, and I think that we are going to continue to look at that as a potential pivot for ESPN away from the linear business. But we’re not going to do that precipitously. We’re not going to do that until it really makes sense from an economic perspective.”
This could potentially see NBA streaming rights split from the broadcast rights, with Apple making a bid for the former. A non-exclusive deal is also possible, with CNBC suggesting that deals could be struck with three or four different companies. Those might be for separate packages, but there may also be overlap.
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