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NBA's TV deal talks complicated by media companies' shrinking bottom lines

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Jun 1, 2023
Illustration of a basketball with the seam shaped like a dollar symbol

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NBA's desire to wring price increases on its next TV deal is running up against media companies' new austerity period.

Why it matters: How the next NBA deal is structured will go a long way in determining how sports leagues view the health of both the legacy and streaming TV business.

State of play: The NBA currently gets $2.66 billion a year from Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery under its current deal, which expires following the 2024-2025 season. It's aiming to double that.

  • The league has held informal talks with both companies, a source tells Axios. Those conversations could pick up following the conclusion of the NBA Finals, which tip off Thursday night.
  • Both Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have an exclusive negotiating window with the league until next spring.
  • League executives including commissioner Adam Silver have touted their desire for a hybrid model that incorporates both linear TV and streaming, with Amazon and YouTube seen as the most likely streaming partners.
  • Comcast also has interest in bringing the NBA back to NBC for the first time since 2002.

The big picture: The cable bundle is eroding faster than even pessimists predicted — and the rising costs of sports are partly to blame.

  • The amount of people subscribing to cable and satellite is 75.5 million following the first quarter of 2023, down 7% from last year. Industry experts predict it could get as low as 50 million.
  • As cable vanishes, the new TV model for sports leagues could be a mix of old and new: more games moving back to broadcast TV stations while getting more streaming partners in the game.

What they're saying: "We have a really big, avid young fan base, but many of whom aren't subscribing or viewing pay television anymore," Bill Koenig, the NBA's president of global content and media distribution, said during last month's MoffettNathanson's TMT Conference.

  • "There will be some kind of a hybrid with I think more of an emphasis than in the past on broadcast."
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