ADAM SILVER Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The NBA will have its own version of March Madness this season.

It won’t take place on the court or feature a matchup between LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Instead, it will set the framework for how fans will be able to watch their favorite teams and players in future seasons.

“There’s certain structural changes we want to make in sort of how our television relationship works, but at the same time, we’re not quite sure how it’s going to look,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said after a Board of Governors meeting earlier this year. “You’re clearly seeing an evolution or a morphing of media moving continually to streaming services. … Obviously other entrants in the market would potentially be interested.”

The league’s 45-day negotiation period with the incumbents, ESPN/ABC and TNT, for the next media rights deal formally begins March 9. Both sides have had conversations about renewing their deals, but not nearly at the same level as 2014, when ESPN and ABC approached the NBA two years early about renewing.

The league’s nine-year agreement, which runs through the 2024-25 season, brings in an average of $2.67 billion per season, making it the world’s second-richest deal for domestic rights. That is nearly triple the $930 million per year from the previous eight-year contract.

ESPN and Turner ponied up large amounts of money to make sure its competitors didn’t have a chance to grab a piece of the market. With streaming services already part of baseball, NFL and NHL deals and long-term questions about the viability of ESPN and Turner in a shifting media marketplace, there will be the addition of at least one more outlet in a future deal.


“There are several potential candidates to have a package of NBA content. The question is, what is the number that the NBA is looking for and can they get that price from the others?” said Tag Garson, Wasserman’s senior vice president of properties.

ESPN/ABC and Turner air a combined 165 regular-season games. Warner Brothers Discovery, which owns Turner Sports, also runs NBA TV, which airs 106 games.

It would not be surprising to see ESPN and Turner reduce their regular-season inventory, as long as they both had priority during the playoffs.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of content, has said in multiple interviews that maintaining the NBA Finals remains a priority.

The NBA also remains appointment viewing. The six games on ESPN and Turner from Tuesday through Thursday averaged 2.57 million viewers, up 13% over last season and the most-viewed opening week in the six years that the season opened on schedule.

ESPN’s Wednesday night doubleheader, which included Victor Wembanyama’s debut with the San Antonio Spurs, averaged 2.76 million viewers, the network’s second-most watched opening night in 20 years.


Getting a better gauge of ESPN’s financial outlook will be easier beginning next month, when its earnings will be broken out quarterly as part of Walt Disney Company’s reorganization. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing from last week, ESPN had revenues of $13.2 billion and a $1.5 billion profit through the first nine months of the 2023 fiscal year.

ESPN has also discussed adding strategic partners, which could include sports leagues, as it prepares to launch a direct-to-consumer product by 2025.

The future of Turner also remains an unknown. In the past nine years, it has been part of Time Warner, AT&T, WarnerMedia and now Warner Brothers Discovery.

The NBA will have a streaming company involved in its next deal, with plenty of suitors interested. Amazon would like to create a package similar to “Thursday Night Football,” but Peacock also has interest as a way for NBC to get back in with the NBA. NBC aired games from 1990 through 2002 and John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” theme song remains one of basketball’s unofficial anthems.

Whether a Peacock deal would also include games on NBC and/or USA Network is also a question.

Apple also expressed interest since the league’s global rights also expire at the same time. Apple’s deal with Major League Baseball involves multiple countries and it has a worldwide agreement with Major League Soccer.


Media Day Harden 76ers Basketball

The NBA is looking into why James Harden did not travel to Milwaukee with the 76ers for their game against the Bucks on Thursday night. TNT reported that Harden was not allowed on the 76ers team plane. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

76ERS: Philadelphia went to Milwaukee without James Harden and the NBA wants to know why.

The league, which strengthened its rules about resting healthy players this summer, is investigating the reasons behind Harden’s absence from the 76ers’ nationally televised season opener against the Bucks on Thursday night.

“We’re looking into the facts around James Harden’s availability tonight to determine whether an approved reason exists for his lack of participation,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.

Harden wants to be traded and was away from the Sixers recently until returning this week. Coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday that the point guard wouldn’t travel with the team so he could work on rebuilding his conditioning with team staff members at the 76ers’ training facility.

TNT reported during the 76ers’ 118-117 loss that Harden had attempted to board the team plane to Milwaukee and was turned away. Asked after the game whether that report was accurate, Nurse replied that “there was a report that he showed up for practice and we determined that he should stay back for conditioning.”

The player participation policy requires teams to demonstrate an approved reason for a star player to miss national TV games (such as Phoenix listing injuries for Devin Booker and Bradley Beal that had them missing the Suns’ visit to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night).

Teams could be fined $100,000 for their first violation of the policy.

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