The upcoming NBA broadcast deal for the 2025-26 season is set to be the league’s most lucrative agreement yet, and Warner Bros Discovery has expressed a desire to retain its rights. 

Following its most recent quarterly report, Warner Bros Discovery executives alluded to the exclusive 45-day tender negotiation process – which is from 9 March to 22 April –  enabling the entity to secure an agreement with the NBA for live broadcast rights for TNT Sports

NBA on TNT has been one of the most valuable assets for the Turner Sports network, having held rights for NBA programming for almost 30 years. 

The last NBA TV deal saw a total valuation of $24bn, primarily to Disney and Warner Bros Discovery, with the latter paying $1.2bn annually. However, it has been widely reported that the league is looking to significantly bolster the figure for the next TV deal, with a maximum valuation of $75bn being touted. 

This is in no small part due to the presence of interested streaming platforms, who have been accelerating its efforts to acquire live sports broadcast rights since the turn of the decade. 

This heavy interest from the likes of Amazon’s Prime Video and possibly even Netflix will more than likely see incumbent parties like Warner Bros Discovery pay more annually for broadcast rights in the next deal. 

However, Warner Bros Chief Financial Officer, Gunnar Wiedenfels, asserted that whilst NBA programming remains a priority for its sports broadcasting offerings, it will remain vigilant on its valuation beliefs during negotiations next month. 

He said: “We have been able to strike profitable (sports rights) deals and we’re always going to be disciplined. 

“It’s very easy to lose control over sports rights investments. That’s not what we do. We’re going, we know exactly what value we assign and we stay disciplined during our discussions.

“On the NBA specifically, we’ve had a very, very strong partnership for 40 years, and I certainly hope that we’re going to be able to continue that in the most positive way.”

It will be tough for the NBA to ignore the prevalence that global streaming platforms are having on sports in recent years. 

Whilst the 2022-23 NBA season cable TV ratings averaged 1.59 million viewers across ABC, ESPN and TNT, this was marginally down from last season’s average viewership of 1.61 million and continues a current downward trend for NBA viewership on cable TV. 

Whilst the NBA has become one of the most digitally active leagues in the world when it pertains to social media engagement and viewership, streaming platforms are increasingly taking over from traditional TV as they provide more convenience for households. 

NBA officials will no doubt have observed the success of NFL games on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video for Thursday Night Football, as well as the record-breaking AFC Wild Card game NBC’s Peacock hosted last January.

Warner Bros Discovery hosts their own native streaming service, MAX, but the strategy behind the service has had no focus on live sports, which may lead to discussions with ESPN and FOX whether an agreement can be reached to host NBA games on the trio’s new sports streaming platform joint venture

On an earnings call to investors following quarterly results, Chief Executive David Zaslav told investors that the joint venture with ESPN and FOX will be bundled with MAX and simplify the viewing experience for its consumers, in particular for younger demographics. 

He said: “We believe this will provide a terrific consumer experience and will be a great business. We couldn’t be more excited about it. We’ll also be able to bundle this product with Max. So we see this new joint venture as another potential driver of incremental growth for our business going forward.

“In some ways, the sports venture is trying to meet that very need that when you put our product together with Fox’s product together with the ESPN product, it just has a much better, more fluid, more simple consumer experience. It’s not which channel is it on? It’s not where do I go? How do I go? I think more and more will be gravitating toward that.”

In all likelihood, Disney and Warner Bros will retain NBA broadcast rights once the current deal ends after the 2024-25 season. 

However, after 22 April, the NBA is able to freely negotiate with the likes of Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc., and the league’s latest offering, the In-Season Tournament, may prove to be a valuable asset as the league aims to increase its visibility and fan popularity after its inaugural edition last November. 

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