ESPN to aggressively pursue new NBA rights deal

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN's president believes the league is a "critical product" for the network.

The NBA's current television rights deals don't expire until after the 2015-16 season, but negotiations are expected to heat up in the very near future. During ESPN's media day on Wednesday, president John Skipper said that the network plans on aggressively pursuing a new rights deal, according to Adam Harris of SportsBusinessDaily.

Skipper called the NBA a "critical product" for ESPN and went on to say that not many things "move the needle like that." ESPN will likely have to fight off Fox for NBA rights as the network plans to add content to the new Fox Sports 1.

Skipper also discussed the speculation that digital platforms are trying to compete for major sports rights:

"It is incomprehensible to me that the NBA would decide to put their games on a digital platform, and that sports fans are going to make a transformation, saying, ‘I'm going to go to Yahoo to watch my games tonight.' I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think they have any way to monetize those rights in the same way that traditional (networks can)."

ESPN and Turner Sports currently pay the NBA a combined $930 million to broadcast the league's games. That represents a 20 percent increase over the previous deal, and the new one is expected to have an even larger increase.

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