Adam Silver says finalizing the new media rights deals is ‘complex’ process

Getting the NBA’s next round of media rights deals completed is an extremely complex proposition, Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday, especially because nobody can say with any certainty what the viewing landscape will look like in the future.

Silver, speaking in his annual pre-NBA Finals news conference, did not offer any hints on when the next series of deals will be completed, other than saying “in the relative near term.” The current deals with ABC-ESPN and Turner Sports expire after next season and the NBA has been talking with NBC, ESPN and Amazon, among other networks and platforms, about what comes next.

“It’s complicated for several reasons,” Silver said. “One is the advent of new platforms, particularly streaming and the interest of streaming companies and in the traditional media companies also carrying our games on streaming platforms. It’s complicated because with multiple partners, all seeking similar assets in many cases, you’re just figuring out the right way to balance those games as they go to different partners.”

The expectation, from networks and others involved in the process, is that the new agreements will be for 11 years and could exceed $70 billion in total value. Those would smash the existing norms for both value and deal length; the current one is nine years, $24 billion.

“We tend to do long-term deals,” Silver said. “We think that’s good for the stability of the league. But it means to a certain extent you’re trying to predict the future, which is of course impossible. Part of it is a bet on the partners that we’ll ultimately align with and their ability also to adjust the times and their willingness to continue to invest in media and to become global, which is very important to the league as well.”

What remains most unclear is how, or if, Turner will remain involved with the NBA when the new deals get struck.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav sounded an ominous note in late 2022, saying that Turner and WBD “don’t have to have the NBA” once their current deal expires. If WBD is not part of the next deals, one of the most recognizable changes for fans could be the demise of the highly popular “Inside the NBA” program featuring former NBA stars Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

“That show, in particular, is special.” Silver said.

When the deals get done — whether it’s in the coming days, weeks or even months — it would clear the way for the next major item on the NBA’s to-do list, that being expansion.

Silver has been very clear on the order of his top agenda items in recent seasons, those being preserving labor peace (which was achieved with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement) and getting a new media deal (talks ongoing). Then the league, at some point, will turn its attention toward adding new franchises.

“By turning to expansion, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to announce that now we’re ready to add teams,” Silver said. “It means that there will be a committee of NBA governors that will focus on it. … I actually am looking forward to that. I think the league, it’s not preordained that we will expand this time, but I know there’s an enormous amount of interest out there.”

In other topics covered by Silver:

Caitlin Clark

Silver didn’t opine on the hard foul that Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark took from Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter last weekend, a play that has been scrutinized in countless ways from countless parties.

“As a fan, obviously, it’s nothing new in basketball that there’s sort of welcome-to-the-league moments, especially for heralded rookies,” Silver said. “But of course, I want to see Caitlin treated fairly and appropriately in the league. I would say, seems like she can take care of herself. She’s a tough player.”

Silver calls Clark “an incredible talent” and says all the attention she helps bring is good for the game — while noting that the growth of the fan base for the women’s game didn’t start just now, either. He also said it can’t be ignored that there are “larger societal issues at work … some having to do with race” when discussing the attention Clark generates and how that is received.

“Sports, historically, has been a platform for people to talk directly about these issues,” Silver said. “I don’t think we should hide from them, and I think the players are happy to engage about these issues.”

Tanking

Silver said he believed the $750,000 fine the NBA issued to the Dallas Mavericks was appropriate last season, after a brief investigation showed the team engaged in “conduct detrimental to the league” by sitting out most of its key players against the Chicago Bulls on April 7, 2023.

The Mavs still had a chance to reach the playoffs, but the NBA said it believed the team made its roster decisions that night “in order to improve the chances of keeping its first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.” That pick became Dereck Lively II, who has played a significant role for the Mavericks in their run to the NBA Finals.

“In terms of what Dallas did last year, we sanctioned them. We did what we thought was appropriate at the time,” Silver said. “I would only say that the success they saw this season, that they’re now seeing in the playoffs and here they are at the finals, I don’t attribute it to one draft pick — as important as that draft pick has been to their team.”

Reporting by the Associated Press. 

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