NBA announces new six-year, $4.6 billion deals with ESPN-ABC, TNT; most games on cable

Tuesday, January 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The NBA's new six-year, $4.6 billion TV deals with ABC, ESPN and TNT were completed Tuesday, shifting nearly all of the league's games to cable.

The deals are worth $765 million a year, a 25 percent increase from the $615 million the league made annually in TV rights under the four-year, $2.46 billion deals with NBC and Turner Sports that expire after this season.

It represents the smallest percentage increase in the NBA's TV rights fees since at least 1983. Since then, the league has more than doubled its national TV revenue three times _ including the expiring deal _ and received a nearly 50 percent increase in the only other contract. Those previous deals were all for four years.

``This is a very substantial increase in a turbulent marketplace. We couldn't be happier,'' NBA commissioner David Stern said. ``It's relatively easy to go from 100 million to 200 million. But you necessarily begin to slow down on your rate of increase as your numbers get higher.''

While Turner Sports stays on as an NBA partner with TNT, NBC drops pro basketball after 12 years.

NBC offered about $1.3 billion for four years last month, prompting the league to turn to ABC and ESPN.

The league's regular-season ratings dropped 35 percent from 1997-98 to 2000-01. NBC says it lost more than $100 million a season in its outgoing NBA deal.

In its contract, ABC will air up to 15 regular-season games on Sundays _ fewer than half of NBC's coverage _ plus five early round playoff games and the NBA Finals.

TV coverage of the East and West conference finals moves completely to cable now, with ESPN and TNT each carrying one of those series each season.

The All-Star game also moves to cable, on TNT.

ESPN and ESPN2 will carry 75 regular-season games, with doubleheaders on Fridays and single games Wednesdays.

ESPN will also have up to 17 early round playoff games.

TNT gets 52 regular-season games, most on Thursday nights, and 45 early round playoff games. TBS will no longer carry NBA games.

An as-yet-unnamed new cable channel _ a 50-50 venture between the league and AOL Time Warner _ will have nearly 100 games, all but two in the regular season.

Stern said the new network should launch in the fall in about 30 million homes. He hopes that will be up to 80 million within six years.

ESPN previously telecast NBA games for two seasons, 1982-83 and 1983-84.