NBA near slam-dunk on richer TV deals

NBC, TNT to double payouts

The National Basketball Assn. is expected to sign new four-year pacts with NBC and TNT as early as this week, potentially doubling their rights fees.

Under new terms, TV sports execs expect NBC to easily double the price paid under its current $750 million four-year deal, already supplemented by a revenue-sharing agreement, in exchange for additional playoff games that in turn will provide more ad revenues. One source put NBC’s figure at $1.6 billion.

TNT similarly is expected to roughly double its current $352 million payout for a new four-year deal.

But the rich new NBA deals are almost certain to lose money for the networks, who won’t be able to recoup the rights fees in higher ad rates despite the fact that they’ll have more ad units to spread around.

“The question is ‘How much am I going to lose and can I swallow that?’ ” says one top sports media buyer.

Unclear is how the new deals will change the calendar of NBA games.

Currently NBC begins its coverage on Christmas Day, nearly two months into the regular season, and airs regular weekly games starting in mid-January. But its ability to extend coverage earlier in the season is limited by commitments to the NFL, Major League Baseball and other events.

TNT currently airs 71 regular-season games and 40 playoff games, all in primetime, and they’re among its most highly programs.

NBC, which airs late games in the conference finals and all NBA Finals games, could add some of TNT’s early-round playoffs, promising to run them in primetime in late May and early June, after the primetime season has ended. An expanded slate would thus not pose the problem that baseball playoffs do for NBC, crimping the launch of the new fall schedule.

Both networks have exclusive negotiating periods with the league that extend through Nov. 30, and the NBA’s strong marketing, young demos and star players have fueled interest in retaining the TV packages.

NBA commissioner David Stern also has expressed loyalty to his TV partners, repaid with extensive support like NBC’s “NBA Inside Stuff” kidvid series and coverage of the inaugural Women’s NBA.

Final terms may be approved at a board of governors meeting on Nov. 11, but a deal could be stalled by other issues until later this month. Web spokesmen declined comment on the negotiations.

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