The king has returned to Cleveland. KD is on the shelf. Kobe and D-Rose are on the mend. And the San Antonio Spurs want a repeat that would give leader Tim Duncan a sixth ring, matching some guy named Mike.
These are among the key storylines on the court as the National Basketball Association tips off its 2014-15 season, its first full campaign under the watch of commissioner Adam Silver.
On the business side of the basket, ESPN and TNT, which earlier this month renewed nine-year deals for a combined $24 billion that will make them NBA partners into the middle of the next decade, have shuffled some of their on-air talent as they look to extend their recent ratings reign that has seen them net the four most-watched seasons in their histories.
Perhaps more interestingly, this season figures to mark the first with widescale in-market streaming by regional sports networks. The game simulcasts will be available to the RSNs’ authenticated video customers. Here are five forecasts for the new season:
1. Games will be streamed: After tests with six clubs and a handful of distributors, Fox Sports Net regionals will cast a wider streaming net this season. Officials say 16 Fox regionals that have rights to NBA teams’ games will start the season by streaming games from the outset via the Fox Sports Go TV-everywhere platform. YES Network, which televises the Brooklyn Nets, will come on board later.
At press time, the NBA and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group were putting the final legal touches on a deal that will also let its RSNs with NBA teams jump into the streaming game.
2. Regional viewership will shift: With LeBron James back on his throne in Akron, Fox Sports Ohio will benefit from a jump beyond its 2.79 household rating average in the Cleveland DMA. Conversely, Sun Sports, James’s erstwhile TV palace, figures to drop from its 6.86 mark in Miami, the third-best for NBA RSNs in 2013-14.
The top RSN in terms of NBA ratings last season, FS Oklahoma, could see a downturn from its 8.68 in Oklahoma City as Kevin Durant recovers from his foot injury.
3. Ratings should keep rising: Since ESPN joined TNT as a national carrier 12 years ago, viewership has jumped 24%, and the last four seasons have been the most-watched in their history with pro hoops.
“The league is very strong. Its beauty is that has a young and multiethnic appeal,” Doug White, ESPN director of programming and acquisitions, said. “The NBA is the third-most-popular sport among Hispanics and overindexes with African-Americans. There is vast interest in the NBA around the world.”
4. The on-air roster has changed: The Golden State Warriors’ coaching change has resulted in new lineups in both national telecasters’ booths. With Steve Kerr now leading the Warriors, TNT plans to shuffle analysts Grant Hill, Greg Anthony and Reggie Miller with play-by-play men Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan. “We’re going to rotate guys, mix and match them over the course of the season,” Turner Sports president Lenny Daniels said. “We have a deep bench.”
Kerr’s predecessor, Mark Jackson, is set for a full season with ESPN/ABC Sports. He rejoined tablemates Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy last May — many view the trio as the game’s most entertaining — after the Warriors fired him. White noted that there would also be different pairing permutations in play.
5. Big moves will be made over the top: While fans, distributors and Wall Street are all awaiting ESPN and the league’s OTT play under the new media-rights deal, there’s plenty of new action beyond linear this season.
The NBA and Turner will make its “NBA League Pass” live game out-of-market package more accessible to fans via new deals with several alternative distribution platforms, including Microsoft’s Xbox One video game console, as well as through the Amazon Fire digital player, Samsung Smart TVs and select Sony Blu-ray players, NBA officials said.
The package of 900 live regular-season games — retailing at $199 for access on both TV and digital platforms — will also include for the first time a library of classic NBA games. They date back to the 1960s, but are heavily weighted toward memorable games played during the 1990s and 2000s, Turner executives said.