TNT and ESPN shelled out a total of $7.4 billion for an eight-year NBA contract last month without being told that the league is facing arguably the worst betting scandal in its 70-year history.
Why aren’t the networks furious? At a Tuesday press conference, NBA commissioner David Stern said he couldn’t tell his network partners about the investigation of Tim Donaghy, the allegedly corrupt referee, because the FBI had asked for confidentiality as it gathered more information about the ref’s gambling habits.
At least five national cable nets carried live the press conference, during which Stern said Donaghy was a “rogue, isolated criminal.” The disgraced referee will turn himself in to federal authorities later this week.
“Nothing has come out that says this problem goes beyond one rogue referee,” said Neal Pilson, sports consultant and former president of CBS Sports. “The league will weather this storm, which won’t diminish the value of the league to its TV partners, or to fans who attend the games.”
John Skipper, exec veep of content for ESPN, said, “We believe the NBA acted in good faith, and that the league will do everything in its power to address this situation appropriately and forcefully. We don’t expect this will have a material impact on our agreement over the course of the next eight years.”
“We’ve been partners with the NBA for 24 years,” said a spokesman for TNT, “and we continue to support the league.”
David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at USC, said he’s not surprised at the support of the networks. “Stern has shown lots of integrity and credibility over the 20-plus years since he took over as commissioner,” Carter said.
“The NBA has existed for 70 years,” added Chris Bevilacqua, a partner in sports-marketing company SFC Worldwide, “and it’ll be around for at least another 70 years.”