ESPN and ABC, two pieces of the Walt Disney empire that have pushed in recent months to find new ways of working together, said they would air NBA basketball games on ABC for eight Saturday nights between January and April — putting more primetime sports on ABC on weekends.
Starting next year, ABC and ESPN will televise NBA games four days per week (Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) on one network or the other, including three in primetime.
ABC had previously aired double-headers on Sundays, but now will show one exclusive game on Saturday nights and one on Sunday afternoons, for a total of 16 regular-season NBA games beginning on Christmas Day. ESPN will continue to show primetime double-headers Wednesdays and Fridays, usually at 8 and 10:30 p.m. throughout the regular season.
“The NBA’s massive popularity continues to open doors for new, collaborative opportunities, and this new series demonstrates ESPN’s commitment to showcase the NBA as often — and across as many platforms — as possible,” said John Skipper, ESPN’s president, in a prepared statement. “We expect to establish this series as a big-game destination for NBA fans, along the lines of what we’ve accomplished in college football with ‘Saturday Night Football’ on ABC.” He made the announcement in conjunction with Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC TV.
The announcement comes after ABC aired its sports-network sister’s ESPY Awards in primetime for the first time, garnering an audience three times as large as that normally viewing the program on ESPN. This year’s telecast included an award for Caitlin Jenner, which likely spurred outsize interest in the program.
ESPN and ABC had announced an effort to move ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” radio program to New York and package it for advertisers with ABC’s “Good Morning America” but recently scrapped the idea due to logistics.
In October ESPN struck a new nine-year pact with the NBA that gives it and ABC the right to telecast 100 games and create a broadband-only offering in which the league would take a stake. ABC will continue to air the NBA Finals, as it has for several years.