Amazon's Potential "Sportsnight"

The NBA streaming deal seems smart -- I'm surprised Apple didn't push harder for it.
Amazon Prime has framework deal for NBA broadcast rights
The NBA prefers to have three companies involved in its new deals, but has not ruled out adding a fourth.

This was rumored last week but now The Athletic is reporting that it's basically a done deal:

In what will be a landmark move in sports media history, the NBA and Amazon Prime Video have the framework of a deal that will make the streaming service one of the main homes for the league’s games, executives with direct knowledge of the talks told The Athletic.

It is expected that Prime Video’s package will include significant regular season and postseason games, perhaps even some conference finals. The anticipation is that the final contract will be for at least a decade and begin the 2025-2026 season.

It has long been known that one of the streamers was likely to get part of the NBA package, but I'm sort of surprised that Apple wasn't more aggressive here.

First and foremost, it's well known that Services SVP Eddy Cue is a sports fanatic – to the point where Apple may or may not have pushed out a rather weird and simple sports score app simply so that he could "get the damn score" – and the NBA in particularly seems to be his sport of choice, or certainly the one he chooses to be seen at most often.

Second, without question, one of the killer features of the Vision Pro is going to be immersive sports. And Cue had the foresight to strike the deep MLS partnership well ahead of that device in order to secure the rights (he also got lucky with Lionel Messi deciding to come to the league last year). Soccer is great – or will be, when Apple figures out how shoot and ship the games – but arguably even better would be the NBA. Why? Something Cue knows well: courtside seats.

Yes, there are better seats from which to see the entire game, but there are no better seats to truly feel immersed in the experience and energy of a game (I've been lucky enough to sit courtside a few times at various games throughout the years). Imagine if you could choose to switch between the courtside angle and the more standard game broadcast angles? Apple could have made this happen.

Perhaps they still will – it's entirely possible that the NBA could strike a separate deal around certain "immersive" rights. But as we all know, Apple likes to "own the whole stack". Just as with MLS, I'm sure Apple would love to be able to broadcast NBA games on Apple TV+. So you have to imagine it just came down to price? The NBA rights are obviously far more expensive than MLS rights. But Apple is also one of the, if not the, richest company on the planet. Again, with all the incentives in the world to strike such a deal.1 Strange.2

A natural landing spot for Amazon’s regular-season games could be Thursday night, where it already has the NFL from September to early January. The NBA, in recent years, has moved its games off Thursday during the time period to not go head-to-head with the NFL. It is expected to then have significant playoff inventory. Amazon has shown interest in global rights, which has been a key part of the NBA’s negotiating strategy as it lined all of its domestic and international deals to end following the 2024-2025 season.

I think this is smart. Imagine if Amazon "brands" Thursday nights as "Sportsnight". In the fall/winter that's the NFL, in the winter/spring that's NBA (with some overlap, of course). I'm reminded of yesteryear when NBC made Thursday night "Must See TV". People complain about fragmentation of all the various sporting events now (not to mention shows in general), and rightfully so. But Amazon could do something smart here...

With ESPN, Amazon and the NBA all under the impression that they will complete deals, this puts the onus on TNT Sports, which has had the NBA since 1984. It is in a fight with NBC, which was the lead partner of the NBA before losing its rights in 2002. NBC, with its streaming service, Peacock, wants back in and is competing with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports for a deal.

It would be wild if TNT loses the NBA entirely. It's less about the games and more about their half-time and post-game "Inside the NBA" shows. Thanks to the uniquely off-the-cuff and fun dynamic between the ex-player hosts, led by Charles Barkley, it's often better to watch than the games themselves. But they still need the games to make them work.

Or maybe not... The "commentators watching the match" dynamic is commonplace here in the UK thanks to the sheer madness of Premier League TV rights. I suppose it could work in the US too, but it would be a leap after decades of the normalized dynamic.

Regardless, it feels like the NBA has played this all smartly to not be completely screwed when it comes to revenue coming in from rights. Yet. And this is yet more sports content that won't be a part of the Disney/Warner/Fox streamer...

Update May 1, 2024: It sounds like Comcast/NBC is making a strong push to muscle out Warner/TNT given their debt/cost position. They can still match, but it's pretty far above their previous deal, so it's sure looking like Warner is not only going to lose the NBA on TNT, but a huge part of their value prop to the aforementioned sports streaming service...

1 Especially since, much like the MLS deal, it's being reported that Amazon's deal may include worldwide rights. A key part of these deals for these massive companies that operate all around the world.

2 To be fair, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy is also a huge sports fan.