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NBA Broadcast Rights Could Lead to Streaming Battle

TV remote in front of television showing basketball game

The Take

  • NBA media rights come up for sale at the end of the 2024–2025 season, entering a new live sports landscape.
  • Disney and Warner-Bros. Discovery channels air NBA games and will offer first bids on the rights for the next ten years.
  • The bidding comes as the NBA Finals recorded record-low viewership, not even surpassing last year’s Finals. However, the Playoffs were up in viewership.
  • The NBA expects record bids from the media companies in the running, including streaming services looking to get into sports.

NBA games this year aired on ABC, ESPN, and TNT, but the days of a cable package allowing you to view every dribble, shot, and penalty may be coming to a close. The NBA is examining its options and how much it can get for a league that brings in over $1 billion a year in ad revenue.

Where could the games go? That’s the big question. Apple TV+ has already shelled out $2.5 billion for Major League Soccer rights, while Netflix hasn’t entered the live sports space yet. NBC Sports has expressed interest in the rights, and Amazon has already set up live sports streaming, so it could be in the running too. Since many viewers already watch live sports on live TV streaming platforms, it may not be much of a change in the long run. Still, at this point, it’s a jump ball and anyone’s game.

The NBA’s broadcast rights come up for sale after the NBA Finals’ record-low viewership across the series. Viewership for Game 5 increased only by 1% year over year, and the five-game series’ average viewership was down to only 11.64 million viewers. Most other games in the series were down by around 10–14% year-over-year.

However, the NBA Playoffs were the most watched in five years across Disney, and Warner Bros. Discovery channels ABC, ESPN, and TNT, which means that networks and streaming services will be bidding for a proven entity. Having live sports on deck can help with ratings, advertisers, and drawing subscribers to cable or streaming.

Live sports provide a need for cable

Viewers who want live sports are some of the only people still signing up for cable packages, especially since most streamers haven’t gotten into exclusively streaming live sports … yet. Amazon Prime Video has Thursday Night Football, Peacock broadcast the Olympics, and Max offers U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Soccer games. But most people have to go through their cable provider, meaning that whichever company holds the keys to NBA rights can command viewers.

In 2014, the NBA re-upped its deal with Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery (then Time Warner Inc.) because TNT, ESPN, and ABC were the top places to go. Now that more people are streaming than ten years ago, it’s likely that the league will want an exclusive streaming component.

Both Disney—with ESPN+—and Warner Bros. Discovery—with Max—can offer that, but Bloomberg noted that the league might want more games to be shown on free networks like the local affiliate channels ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS. (Many football games migrate between CBS, FOX, NBC, and ABC during the regular season.)

The NBA rights battle could make or break cable. With ESPN discussing leaving cable altogether, a rights deal highlighting streaming could make cable packages obsolete. Add to that the rise of regional sports networks, which are also streaming games, and it’s a recipe for cable disaster.

But we’re not spelling doom and gloom yet! NBA games are airing for at least the next two seasons on Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery channels, so don’t cancel your cable or live TV streaming plans just yet.

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