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NBA Hunger Games Enter the Fourth Quarter

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The NBA is sitting on a windfall—truly an amazing deal given the ever-tightening sports media marketplace, and a truly unfathomable accomplishment given the state of the league when David Stern took over a generation ago. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
John Ourand
May 6, 2024

As Warner Bros. Discovery and NBC continue to duke it out for the NBA’s third and final media rights package—negotiations that are entering a third week with no agreement in sight, I’m told—ESPN’s and Amazon’s agreements are beginning to come into full view. Nothing’s been signed yet, and sources caution that some terms and packages may change—yada yada, you know the drill. All that said, ESPN and the league have agreed on a framework that will see the Disney-owned channel produce NBA games every Wednesday night during the regular season. ESPN will also give up the Friday night games that it has been carrying as part of its current deal. 

This arrangement confirms the industry-wide speculation that ESPN is technically paying more for less—the network’s average annual fee will increase from $1.5 billion to around $2.6 billion over the next 11 years, despite cutting its regular-season slate in half. On some level, this is merely a reflection of both the league’s rising fortunes and also the unavoidable realities of modern media conglomerates as they subsequently seek to buttress their declining cable businesses while leaning into their D.T.C. futures. To wit: ESPN, which is launching two streaming services in the next 16 months, had little choice but to bid aggressively. And, for its part, the company will remain the NBA’s dominant TV partner during the playoffs. Every season, it will carry the NBA Finals and one conference final series.