Editor Note: Early Entrants is a bi-weekly series of sports business “rumblings” before the news breaks.
Expect NBA to Make Transition from Linear to All Digital in ‘25
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has predicted that “like Jim Brown for the Cleveland Browns in 1960 – [the tech companies are] going to be breaking through the line [buying up exclusive tier-1 broadcast rights].” While he didn’t offer a time table for the migration from linear to all digital, JohnWallStreet has heard that the first move could be made when the NBA’s current deals with ESPN and TNT expire (following ’24-’25 season). One source close to the league tells JohnWallStreet that “just like the NBA was the first [of the big four leagues] to go from broadcast to cable, it will be the first to go to all streaming come 2025.” It sounds as if revenue will be the motivation. Our source suggested “the value of a national exclusive non-linear rights package would be off the charts” – too much money for the league to turn down. When pushed if the league would renew any linear contracts at that time, we were told “maybe the NBA Finals.”
Wasserman Trying to Steer UCLA to ACC?
Sources tell JohnWallStreet that UCLA mega donor Casey Wasserman “is advising the school not to re-up with the Pac-12 [beyond the conference’s existing Grant of Rights agreement, which expires in 2023].” Logic says that Wasserman is trying to steer his alma-mater to the Atlantic Coast Conference where he serves as an advisor, but it doesn’t seem feasible for the school’s non-revenue generating sports to play half their schedule 3,000 miles from campus (and they wouldn’t be welcomed to stay in the Pac-12 without football and basketball). Geographically speaking, the Big-12 Conference makes the most sense, but as one P5 athletic director suggested “do not underestimate the academic arrogance of the California schools. Joining open-access state schools like Iowa State and Texas Tech is and has always been a non-starter for them.” Heavy money remains on UCLA sticking with Cal, Stanford, USC and the Pac-12 Conference.
Formation of a Pac-12/Big-12 Strategic Alliance Deemed “Very Likely”
UCLA isn’t going to become the Big-12’s 11th member, but one former Big-12 athletic director deemed the eventual formation of a strategic alliance between the Pac-12 and the Big-12 – on tier-one rights (as was first discussed back in ’12) – as “very likely.” The move simply makes too much sense for it not to happen. 24 schools, spread across 4 time zones, would generate the leverage needed to ensure future growth in the value of their collective media rights; and the addition of several new opponents on each school’s home schedule would help to solve college football’s attendance problems (at least in the short-term).
Sinclair Making Play for AT&T SportsNet RSNs
Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) – which took down the 21 Fox RSNs and holds stakes in both YES Network and Marquee Sports Network – is apparently not yet done collecting regional sports networks. Sources tell JohnWallStreet that “Sinclair is desperately trying to buy AT&T’s 4 RSNs” (AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, AT&T SportsNet Southwest and Root Sports Northwest). While the two sides have not yet to come to an agreement, SBGI has “a bridge loan is in place with J.P. Morgan, so that they can close.” One well-respected media analyst suggested that the difficulty AT&T has faced merging and assimilating Warner Media’s well-established assets into its portfolio would be their motivation (along with cash they could use to buy more live rights or pay down debt) to unload the RSNs.
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