Television veteran Ed Desser -- who ushered in the era of league-owned cable sports networks in the late 1990s -- is leaving his post as the National Basketball Association’s executive vice president of strategic planning and business development to start up his own media company.
In 1999, Desser helped to launch NBA TV, the first pro-league-based 24-hour cable network. Currently in 12 million homes, the network offers nearly 100 live NBA games per year. as well as classic league games. Desser was also instrumental in developing “NBA League Pass,” the league’s out-of-market pay-per-view package.
Desser said the NBA was able to take advantage of the confluence of digital-cable tier expansion and the growing popularity of sports programming to create a pro-league-network template that has since been replicated by the National Football League, the National Hockey League and, within the next year, Major League Baseball.
“We recognized that we had a tremendous amount of programming available to us, we believed in the television medium and we recognized the power of the multichannel delivery platform,” Desser said. “There will be a time where it’ll be unthinkable that sports leagues didn’t always have television networks given the amount of product and interest level in their programming.”
In the meantime, he added, league-based networks including NBA TV will still have to dribble through the slow growth of digital sports tiers in their quest to gain mass distribution. Nevertheless, he believes such networks will always have a place on the cable lineup.
“I am happy with where NBA TV is at this point in their development,” he said. “It’s a terrific product that serves the fans, and I’m confident that the network will gain more subscribers in time with the growth of [digital cable].”
Along with developing NBA TV and NBA League Pass during his 23-year tenure at the NBA, Desser was instrumental in the negotiation of NBA national broadcast and cable agreements with ABC, NBC, CBS, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and ESPN.
He also worked closely with many of the league’s 30 teams in connection with the negotiation of their local TV arrangements. As principal of Desser Sports Media Inc., Desser will continue to advise the league on its media decisions.