Bill Koenig and the rest of the NBA are looking at options for the league’s next media rights deals.marc bryan-brown
We’re still at least six months away from the NBA’s next media rights deal, as the league’s 45-day exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and Turner doesn’t start until March 9.
But the league’s top media executive, Bill Koenig, president of global content and media distribution, recently offered some key insights into how the league will approach its negotiations.
Speaking at SBJ’s Media Innovators conference in New York earlier this month, Koenig painted a picture of a media environment that’s going through drastic changes.
“What’s exciting — and a bit daunting — is I think that over the next five years, you’ll see more change than you’ve seen in the last 30 years in media,” he said.
Here are my main takeaways from Koenig’s comments.
Don’t be surprised if a digital company winds up with one of the main packages.
For the past decade, the broadcast networks reached the most people, followed by cable channels. Streaming services were viewed as a complement to linear TV. If you wanted your programming seen by the most people, you’d need to be on broadcast.
That is changing, evidenced by the fact that Netflix has more than 247 million subscribers worldwide, and Prime Video has more than 200 million.
“The definition of reach is changing,” Koenig said. “There’s a lot of opportunity that change will bring.”
That change could go as far as using linear TV to supplement digital packages, Koenig suggested.
“Historically, we thought of a simulcast as something that aired on linear television and then maybe had another telecast or also re-aired the simulcast on digital,” he said. “We’re going to probably flip it around where you’ll see the games — because of personalization and other things — be based on a digital distribution with simulcast opportunities on linear.”
Another way the NBA will pitch digital companies is with the sheer volume of its live events. Koenig said it has enough live programming for about 320 nights per year when the WNBA is included.
Rather than risking production budgets on entertainment shows that may — or may not — become hits, digital companies can invest in sports programming that already has proved itself.
“They’re striving to have consistent hit programming throughout as many months as possible to avoid churn,” he said.
Expect international and local rights to be part of the NBA’s overall deal.
As a way to make its offering more attractive to digital companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix, the NBA ensured that all of its international rights deals ended in 2025 or earlier.
Earlier this month, the NBA agreed to a deal with Diamond Sports Group, which owns the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks, that will have the rights to 15 teams revert back to the league after this season.
This was a similar strategy that MLS used last summer when it pooled all of its local, national and international rights into one big package. MLS eventually cut a 10-year, $250 billion deal with Apple.
“That’s the type of thing that appeals to some of these global streaming companies because … they’re looking for hits,” Koenig said. “Live premium sports is a hit every year.”
The NBA has lucrative deals in markets like China and Britain, so it would take an eye-popping bid for the league to cut a truly global deal. But if a digital company with a market cap over $1 trillion — think Apple, Amazon or Google — wants to make a big sports splash with an NBA deal, this would be the way to do it.
Koenig said digital companies are less interested in buying programming internationally on a market-by-market basis and, instead, invest in programming that will resonate globally.
“That’s something that sports can do — I know the NBA can do — in a lot of markets,” he said. “When we can package in local, it really is attractive.”
Blackouts will become a relic of the past.
Blackouts have been a much-vilified part of the sports media landscape over the past several decades. As the influence of RSNs continues to wane, look for blackouts to be phased out.
Koenig explained: “The day will come where you’ll come to the NBA app, and you’ll click on the Wizards-Celtics game; and if you’re in Washington — and if you’re an authenticated subscriber to Monumental — you’ll go straight into that game.
“If you’re not, you’ll be prompted to subscribe for the season or for a month. … The games aren’t necessarily free, but what we like to say internally is that there’s no dead end. You can always have an option ultimately to buy and access a game. And, frankly, we want that everywhere in the world.”
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on X @Ourand_SBJ and read his weekly newsletter and listen to his weekly podcast.