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Bidding war for rights to air NBA’s 2025 season is officially on

Savannah Maher Apr 24, 2024
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Legacy media companies will compete with streamers like Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Netflix, who are eager to expand their live sports offerings. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bidding war for rights to air NBA’s 2025 season is officially on

Savannah Maher Apr 24, 2024
Heard on:
Legacy media companies will compete with streamers like Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Netflix, who are eager to expand their live sports offerings. Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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The bidding war for rights to air the NBA’s 2025 season and beyond is officially on. The window for ESPN and TNT to extend their exclusive deals with the league closed this week without a final agreement. Those legacy media companies now have to compete for the rights — worth tens of billions of dollars — with streamers like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Netflix, all eager to expand their live sports offerings.

Live sports is one of the last things keeping many fans from cutting the cord. But leagues can’t afford to keep living on cable, said David Offenberg, a professor at Loyola Marymount University. 

“Most of my students have never had cable in their homes,” said Offenberg, and the migration to streaming is largely about meeting younger fans where they are. 

“Streaming is the only way to reach those viewers and to keep their sport relevant,” he said.

That’s worth a lot to the NBA. So are the billions of dollars at stake. It’s also worth a lot to streaming companies struggling to retain fickle subscribers in a crowded market.

“Sports fans are pretty loyal,” said analyst Ross Benes with eMarketer. Benes said one way to capture that loyalty for a good chunk of the year “is to have their favorite league on.”

But leagues like the NBA can’t abandon cable holdouts. Mike Proulx with Forrester said that’s mostly older folks who will never make the switch to streaming. 

“We are in the messy middle right now,” he said.

He expects the NBA to strike deals with a mix of legacy media and tech companies. “Over the next couple of years, we’re going to continue to exist in this hybrid format,” he said, where rights could also be broken up among multiple streamers. 

For instance, let’s say Amazon Prime Video gets the NBA regular season, except for Tuesday night games, which go to TNT and HBO Max. And maybe you have to subscribe to Netflix to watch the in-season tournament. 

Benes with eMarketer said if you’re looking to stream multiple sports leagues, “trying to watch all of them, you would need, like, a whole publication telling you where to watch what.”

Which might have some fans feeling nostalgic for their cable subscription.

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