NBA Extends TV Deals with ESPN/ABC & TNT

NEW YORK (AP) -- The NBA's new television contracts with ESPN/ABC and TNT include rights to technologies that have yet to be invented, an indication of the importance the deals place on newer forms of media.

The eight-year extensions go through the 2015-16 season. The current six-year contracts expire at the end of next season.

"I consider this to be a wonderful vote of confidence by our very sophisticated network partners who are making such a substantial and long-term commitment," NBA commissioner David Stern said.

The number of games televised on the networks won't change much. What's different are the extensive rights for the networks to broadcast games and other content on the Web and mobile phones.

The NBA will receive about $930 million a year for all its broadcast rights, an increase of more than 20 percent from the previous average of $767 million, according to a person familiar with the deal who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release details.

The previous contracts, though, did not include the extensive digital media rights. Stern said the traditional TV rights are still worth more than the digital rights, but the packages do not break down the payments for each type separately.

ESPN/ABC and TNT will each be able to simulcast and offer video on-demand for games that air on its networks.

Stern and network executives downplayed the league's declining TV ratings, insisting there is still plenty of demand for NBA-related content through other forms of media.

San Antonio's recent four-game sweep of Cleveland finished with a record-low 6.2 television rating and 11 share on ABC.

"We are in this for the long term with the NBA," said George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN, Inc. and ABC Sports. "Sports is cyclical; they go up and down.... But it's an incredibly consistent property for us."

The challenge is measuring the level of use of new media in the way that Nielsen ratings gauge TV viewing.

"You're going to see far more people enjoying this sport within the TNT brand not just on a linear channel, but all the digital aspects," said David Levy, president of Turner Sports. "That's how we are looking at this, as the aggregation of the eyeballs, people, viewers and consumers. We do see growth in this property."

The networks will have exclusive coverage of the conference semifinals, which means the games won't also air on teams' local stations. The new deal allows the networks to choose games involving the league's most popular teams more often during the regular season.

ABC will continue to air 15 regular season games and the entire NBA finals and will televise an increased number of games earlier in the playoffs. The maximum number of times a certain team can appear on the network during the regular season has been increased.

ESPN and ESPN2 will continue to show up to 75 regular season games as well as one of the conference finals. ESPN will increase the number of early round playoff games it airs.

TNT will continue to air 52 regular season games, the All-Star game and the majority of the playoff games, including one of the conference finals.

The contract also includes new rights for ESPN International to televise games worldwide.