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How Could NBA Bring National Games to Streaming Services as Part of New Rights Deals?

Stephen Silver

Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL, and various soccer and college athletic leagues have recently announced new deals for their broadcast rights, most of which consist of varying levels of streaming elements. This has led, most notably, to the NFL having Prime Video as its exclusive home for “Thursday Night Football,” baseball putting weekly games on Apple TV+ and Peacock, and Apple making a deal to essentially take over broadcasts of Major League Soccer.

The NBA, however, hasn’t really had its streaming breakthrough yet. The league offers a streaming version of its NBA League Pass out-of-market package, while the channels that offer national NBA games — ABC, ESPN, and TNT — are available on live TV streaming services. However, the bulk of NBA games are shown on local television, and some of those regional sports networks (RSNs) offer streaming products like in the case of Bally Sports+. But the NBA, unlike the other leagues, has no streaming-exclusive games.

The reason for that, more than anything else, is that the NBA’s national TV rights haven’t come up for negotiation recently, in the time since it has become customary for such deals to include streaming. The NBA’s current TV deal, which began in 2016, runs through the 2024-25 season, meaning three years are left, although the league is already laying the groundwork for new TV deals which are expected to significantly boost league revenues.

It’s easy to imagine a few different scenarios for how a national NBA streaming deal could look.

The most likely scenario is probably one similar to that of the NFL, for the NBA to re-up with its current broadcast partners — led by ABC/ESPN and TNT — for much more money than the current numbers, and with more games streamed.

This could be a combination of the addition of a new streaming-exclusive partner like Amazon or Apple, showing a streaming-exclusive games, like the new in-season tournament. And assuming ESPN remains a partner, some component of ESPN’s games would likely be streamed on ESPN+, which has not happened before.

Assuming Turner — which is now owned by Warner Bros Discovery — remains a partner, its corporate sibling HBO Max could get some amount of streaming games as well, especially as the company looks to consolidate its content on a single streamer. And with WBD reportedly seeking to increase its sports content via its Bleacher Report outlet, that could have some effect on the branding of TNT’s NBA coverage.

If recent rumors are true about MLB, the NBA, and the NHL teaming up to buy the current Bally’s Sports regional channels, the future of the streaming NBA could look very different, with teams’ own streaming broadcasts managed more centrally. However, that would probably have more of an effect on teams’ local broadcasts than on the NBA’s national games.

Unless that is, the NBA wanted to make a deal like the NHL’s with ESPN, in which over 1,000 out-of-market games are offered through ESPN+ via NHL Power Play. However, this seems unlikely, since NBA League Pass appears to be successful in its current incarnation, especially as the league has dramatically lowered the price for the 2022-23 season.

The NBA could do a deal with Apple, similar to the MLS one, in which Apple simply takes over all streaming of the league’s games. This would appear to be highly unlikely, mostly because the NBA is structured very differently from MLS and many teams have local deals for many years in the future that can’t be superseded. However, Apple’s deal with the domestic soccer league does not prevent the MLS from reaching additional deals with traditional networks on broadcast or cable.

While any MLS games that end up on linear channels starting next season would not be exclusive, this does show Apple’s willingness to share rights if the product is worth it.

The salary cap, which is pegged to league revenue, is expected to skyrocket once the new deals are in place, something that’s already beginning to affect both team contract planning and players’ free agency decisions. And the league, once the TV contract is in place, is expected to pursue expansion, with LeBron James announcing last week that he is interested in becoming the owner of a new Las Vegas franchise when his on-court career ends.

Any such decision is likely far away, and little has been reported in the media about, say, Apple or Amazon eying the NBA rights as their next streaming play. Front Office Sports did write this week that Amazon’s handling of the NFL package has gotten such strong reviews that Amazon must be seen as a “contender” for an eventual NBA streaming package, but the piece did not report that Amazon is in any active talks for such a bid.

NBA League Pass

For fans of the NBA, the various League Pass services offer the opportunity to follow one team or the entire league with every game (blackout restrictions apply). Prices and features vary greatly, depending on what you’d like to watch.

Subscriptions include Home and Away broadcasts, Mobile View, plus additional languages and camera angles. You’ll also get in-stream advanced statistics so you can check the box score and get live stats on players and teams without ever leaving the stream.

The NBA offers three plans: “Team Pass” ($13.99) provides great options if you only want to follow a single team.

“League Pass” ($14.99) lets you see every game across the entire league.

The “League Pass Premium” ($19.99) plan provides the option to watch on 2 devices without commercials.

NBA League Pass is also available as an Amazon Prime Video channel.


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