NBC Eyes NBA Rights Deal, a Promising Boost for Cord-Cutters

The potential NBC deal could vastly expand access to NBA games for the 23 million U.S. households using over-the-air TV, marking a significant shift away from traditional cable.

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NBCUniversal is reportedly preparing to offer a staggering $2.5 billion per year to secure the rights to air NBA games. 

This potential acquisition, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, signals a significant shift in the battle for sports media dominance. The NBC deal could mark a significant win for millions of cord-cutters, especially for an estimated 23 million U.S. households tapping into over-the-air (OTA) television.

A Shift Toward Free Sports

The potential NBC-NBA partnership is not occurring in isolation. 

Similar movements in the sports world, like the Big Ten Conference’s $7 billion deal with CBS, NBC, and FOX in August 2022, have brought a proliferation of college sports broadcasts to local TV stations. These games are now free for anyone living within range of local TV broadcast towers.

Scripps Sports and other local broadcasters have also been pivotal in driving viewers back to OTA TV by offering the local games of professional sports teams that were once exclusive to cable TV. 

The Phoenix Suns of the NBA and the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL have seen their games reach large audiences by abandoning regional sports networks and returning to local broadcast stations.

Nielsen’s data as of November 2023 indicates that more than 18% of U.S. TV households now have at least one TV set that can access free, broadcast programming. 

With the increased adoption of digital antennas, sports fans have found a renewed interest in OTA broadcasts, a trend that NBC’s potential deal could significantly amplify.

What An NBA-NBC Deal Means for Viewers

For NBA fans, especially those among the nearly 23 million U.S. homes utilizing digital antennas, NBC’s potential deal could mean easy access to games without the need for expensive cable or streaming subscriptions. 

While games could end up streaming on Peacock, most sports offered on the streaming service are also available on local OTA stations. As sports viewing on OTA channels surged by 360% in September 2023, according to Nielsen, the addition of NBA games could further energize this trend.

Implications for the Sports Broadcasting Industry

If successful, NBC’s acquisition of NBA rights could disrupt existing arrangements, including the upcoming sports streaming service crafted by powerhouses ESPN, FOX and Warner Bros. Discovery (EFWB). 

That streaming service, announced earlier this year, promises to break 14 major sports networks, including ESPN, TNT, TBS, and FS1 out of a traditional cable bundle. The EFWB sports service doesn’t yet have an official name or monthly price.  

The NBC deal could complicate EFWB’s streaming ambitions, and the current sports broadcasting landscape. According to WSJ, Warner Bros. Discovery is making “last ditch efforts” to keep its rights to NBA games.

The news is also coming at a time where traditional cable TV continues to suffer losses from cord cutting. Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum, reported it lost 405,000 cable TV customers in the first quarter of 2024.

Jim Kimble is a seasoned industry expert with over two decades of journalism experience. He has been at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement since 2016, testing and writing about TV-related products and services. He founded The Cord Cutting Report in 2016, and serves as the editor.

Major publications, including MarketWatch, Forbes, and South Florida Sun Sentinel, have interviewed Kimble for his years of expertise. He gives advice on the complexities consumers are navigating with streaming options, and over-the-air TV. Kimble has been a staff writer or correspondent for several award-winning, daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe.

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