Turner, ESPN Seek NBA Deal


Cable hoops fans could be the biggest beneficiaries in the National Basketball Association's TV-rights negotiations with Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and ESPN, which could conceivably result in at least one national NBA telecast airing each day during the season.

But operators — who fear significant increases from as many as three networks potentially affiliated with the NBA deal — are not feeling jazzed about those prospects.

Sources close to the situation said Turner and the league are close to finalizing a deal that would offer as many as four national NBA telecasts a week on a revamped version of CNN/Sports Illustrated
that would be co-owned by the league and Turner. The network, according to published reports, would be dubbed AOL Sports.

The offer — reportedly for slightly more than Turner's current four-year, $890 million NBA pact — would also call for Turner Network Television to carry a doubleheader one night per week.

Currently, TNT airs NBA games on Wednesday and Thursday nights, while TBS Superstation presents pro hoops action on Tuesday evenings. The deal ends with this season.

Turner Sports spokesman Greg Hughes said "we feel we're in a good position, but we don't have a deal yet."

Meanwhile, ESPN, along with sister broadcast network ABC, is negotiating for an agreement that would put two national games per week on the cable network and about 20 to 30 games on the broadcast network, according to sources.

NBC currently has broadcast exclusivity through its $1.75 billion deal. The Peacock Network has reportedly offered less money over four years to retain its position.

While operators haven't had any formal talks with ESPN or Turner, most are fearful that any new NBA cable agreement would come in tandem with higher network licensing fees.

"It would certainly be a killer for us," said one exasperated operator. "If they come with major fee increases, I say it's time to put those games on a tier and let those people who want to see the games pay for them."