NBA deals with NBC, Amazon and ESPN could end TNT partnership

Atlanta-based TNT has been home to ‘Inside the NBA’ and NBA games since 1989. Its parent company has only days to decide whether to counter
TNT's "Inside the NBA" is shot in Atlanta. TNT

Credit: TNT

Credit: TNT

TNT's "Inside the NBA" is shot in Atlanta. TNT

Absent a last second shot, TNT’s days of broadcasting NBA games are likely coming to an end.

The NBA finalized broadcasting rights with a trio of media companies, but TNT’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) was not included, according to the deal first reported by The Athletic.

Since 1989, Atlanta-based TNT has broadcast NBA games. But if the new broadcasting deal is approved, that streak will come to an end after the 2024-2025 season when the new contracts go into effect. The new broadcasting rights will last for 11 seasons with a combined value among the three broadcasters of $76 billion.

WBD still has the option to match a portion of the deal to retain a package of games, according to the Athletic report. They will have five days to match the offer after it is approved by the NBA’s board of governors.

The deal, if approved, also means next year will be the last for the popular “Inside the NBA” halftime and studio show produced in Atlanta and hosted by Ernie Johnson Jr. and NBA greats Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

The writing has been on the wall for weeks.

Several media outlets reported on the strained relationship between WBD and the NBA, which culminated in rocky contract negotiations this year. Current NBA exclusivity rights were established in 2016 and are set to expire after the next season.

TNT had an exclusive negotiating window from mid-March to April 22, but the network didn’t offer enough money to the NBA’s satisfaction, according to reports. NBCUniversal swooped in and offered roughly $2.5 billion a year for the NBA’s second-best package of games, double what WBD has been paying the past decade, according to The Athletic. The package, known as the NBA’s “B” block, includes two primetime windows a week, conference semifinals and a conference final.

"Inside the NBA" studio crew, from left, Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny "The Jet" Smith and Charles Barkley. (Edward M. Pio Roda/Turner Sports/TNS)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

Disney, which owns ESPN, was awarded the “A” block of NBA games at a cost of $2.6 billion a year, according to a prior report by The Wall Street Journal. Amazon’s streaming service lined up a deal worth $1.8 billion a year for what is called the “C” block of games, including the Emirates In-Season Tournament, the SoFi Play-In Tournament and first-round playoff games, The Athletic reported.

Negotiations have been clouded by complexity exacerbated by the streaming era. Streaming giants are making increasing investments in live sports programming, which they once brushed aside in favor of scripted content. Live sports are now some of the few segments that can draw consistent audiences to traditional TV. Owning the rights to broadcast games gives media companies an advantage over their competitors. Plus, larger audiences equals greater advertising revenue from companies looking to capture eyeballs.

So broadcasters and streamers all want a piece of the pie, and leagues are charging higher fees for packages much smaller and less comprehensive than rights deals signed five or 10 years ago.

WBD formed in 2022 when Discovery purchased WarnerMedia, assuming assets that included HBO, TNT, TBS and other cable channels. WBD also owns in a joint venture with the NBA, and it’s unclear how the new broadcast contracts will impact the website.

The impending end of the NBA on TNT also likely means the end of “Inside the NBA,” the storied sports talk show shot at WBD’s Midtown Turner Techwood campus. Barkley, that show’s kingpin who has been publicly critical of WBD’s negotiations with the NBA, announced last month he will retire next year, regardless of the broadcast rights outcome.

“I just want to say I’ve talked to all the other networks, but I ain’t going nowhere other than TNT,” he said on an NBA TV postgame show following the Dallas Mavericks’ victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. “But I have made the decision myself: No matter what happens, next year is going to be my last year on television.”

“Inside the NBA” is the marquis of live sports programming across the board. In many ways, the show has situated Atlanta as a hub for basketball culture, said Ethan Tussey, the interim director for Georgia State University’s School of Film, Media & Theatre. Losing the NBA rights, and particularly “Inside the NBA,” would be a blow to Atlanta’s position as a major media capital.

“We don’t necessarily think of the association between Atlanta in the media industries in other instances. This is one where it is front and center,” Tussey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Losing the NBA would be a financial sting for WBD because a significant portion of TNT’s advertising revenue and viewership is driven by pro basketball games. But the move could free up cash to pivot to other opportunities.

The network announced in May that it sublicensed the early rounds of the expanded College Football Playoff from ESPN starting next season in a five-year deal. The network, which has never aired college football before, will broadcast two first-round playoff games during the 2024 and 2025 season. Starting in 2026, TNT will also air two quarterfinal round games each year through 2028.

In recent years, the network has also added rights to the National Hockey League, NASCAR, the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams and All Elite Wrestling.