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NBA's $76 Billion Media Rights Deals Spark Talent War Among Networks

NBA media rights negotiations spark $76 billion talent war, with Charles Barkley and JJ Redick at the center.

By Alex P. Chase

6/11, 15:36 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • NBA's upcoming $76 billion media rights deals are sparking a talent war, with Comcast and Amazon entering the fray.
  • Charles Barkley's future is pivotal; WBD risks losing him to ESPN, Amazon, or NBC amid critical negotiations.
  • Stephen A. Smith is negotiating a new deal with ESPN worth over $20 million annually, aiming to surpass Pat McAfee's earnings.

NBA Media Rights Negotiations

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is on the verge of finalizing several broadcasting deals that will shape where U.S. fans can watch games for the next decade. Media companies are expected to commit $76 billion to the league, sparking a competitive scramble to secure top broadcasting talent. Comcast Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., two companies anticipated to gain broadcasting rights, currently do not air NBA games and will need to assemble new announcing teams and studio crews.

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, which already has established NBA coverage, faces frequent criticism and changes to its studio show. One of ESPN’s primary in-game analysts, JJ Redick, is a candidate for the head coach position of the Los Angeles Lakers. This situation creates opportunities for basketball commentators, as multiple networks will be vying for talent, potentially leading to lucrative contracts similar to those seen in the NFL broadcasting deals.

Charles Barkley's Influence

Charles Barkley, the star of "Inside the NBA," is a pivotal figure in the ongoing NBA media rights negotiations. Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. (WBD), the current home of "Inside the NBA," is at risk of losing its NBA broadcasting rights. WBD has the right to match deals the NBA strikes with other networks, but the league is structuring terms to make this challenging. Barkley has criticized WBD's leadership for mishandling negotiations, which he believes jeopardizes his co-workers' jobs.

Other networks, including ESPN, Amazon, and NBC, are interested in acquiring Barkley and potentially his co-hosts Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal. Barkley has expressed a desire to keep the group together but has also indicated he would consider other opportunities if the financial incentives are sufficient. The future of "Inside the NBA" and its cast will significantly influence the talent bidding war among networks.

Stephen A. Smith's Role

Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s prominent basketball commentator, is negotiating a new deal with the network worth over $20 million annually. The terms of this deal may include ESPN gaining ownership of Smith’s podcast and other commitments. Smith aims to earn more than Pat McAfee, another high-profile ESPN personality, and his new contract is expected to ensure a significant presence in ESPN’s basketball coverage.

The potential pairing of Smith with Charles Barkley, should Barkley move to ESPN, could create a dynamic and high-profile commentary team. This scenario underscores the competitive environment for top basketball commentators and the substantial financial stakes involved.