TNT Signs Mega TV Deal With The NBA — Is Bill Simmons Next?
The NBA scored a major financial victory today with the announcement of its new TV deal with Turner and ESPN: The media companies will pay an average of almost $2.7 billion annually for exclusive TV national broadcast rights over nine years. The ramifications of this massive deal (up from just $930 million for the league per year) are huge -- it could mean the end of max contracts for guys like LeBron James, for example.
The deal is especially big for Turner: Starting in 2017, TNT will show 64 regular season games, All-Star Weekend events, more NBA playoff games than any other network and a bunch of other broadcasting rights through 2025. That means more "Inside The NBA," which is the best basketball show on TV, than ever before -- which is great news.
It also sets the stage for what we think would be the perfect media marriage: Bill Simmons (and Grantland) with Turner.
As discussed last week, rumor has it that Simmons will look to leave ESPN after his contract is up next year. He's butted heads with ESPN brass enough to at least consider alternatives -- the most compelling of which would be starting his own company and platform. If any one sportswriter is big enough to break off from a major publishing platform and survive, it's The Sports Guy.
There are two problems with this idea: It's really tough to make money and/or survive long-term in digital media nowadays (in fact, ESPN is probably the only thing keeping Grantland and FiveThirtyEight afloat at this point, and they do so because of the legitimacy it lends the brand, not for the money these sites rake in), and Simmons would be on the outside looking in of TNT/ESPN's NBA coverage. Would he be able to keep guys like Jalen Rose on his shows if they weren't being broadcast on national television? Simmons himself has said he wants to work with whoever has NBA access.
Meanwhile, TNT's "Inside The NBA" is a powerhouse. The combination of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles "The Best" Barkley makes for the most honest, compelling and fun basketball show out there -- hell, it's the best sports on TV, period. Those guys (appear to) say whatever they want, and they're celebrated for it, not muzzled. That kind of autonomy must appeal to Simmons, who dared his current employer to suspend him only to see them follow through on his dare.
The way I see it, the only thing TNT is missing is the kind of web presence Grantland has. Simmons and company do a great job of putting out quality YouTube content (his NBA previews with Rose are some of the most anticipated of the year) and The B.S. Report is one of the most popular podcasts in the country. When TNT isn't broadcasting, I miss Barkley's take -- and have to settle for Doug Collins and Sage Steele. Imagine a B.S. Report with regular insights from Barkley, and Shaq, and Kenny -- a team that Simmons himself has openly admired (via Sheridan Hoops):
I think Charles is the best studio analyst of all time in any sport. For us, the key is can people look forward to this show the same way that Jalen and I look forward to Thursday nights with TNT. If they have a doubleheader, I’m excited.
On the other hand, the only thing Simmons is missing now is the freedom to say what he wants. He would have that freedom if he struck out on his own, but the support of another media giant like Turner would guarantee uninterrupted quality coverage of a league that's only becoming more popular and culturally relevant. Teaming Grantland with Bleacher Report -- formerly a unique hits farm that has in recent years significantly upgraded its stable of quality writers, thanks to hires like Howard Beck and Jared Zwerling. Combining B/R and Grantland would be a massive coup for Turner, who could boast nearly unsurpassed uniques as well as the great "time on site" numbers that Grantland specializes in.
So Simmons gets a new home -- one, theoretically, that embraces his sometimes-abrasive style -- and TNT consolidates its NBA analysis power, bringing in a fantastic TV and podcast talent along with a website that features some of the best sports and pop culture writers in the business. And ESPN loses its grip on the sports monopoly it holds so dear. Doesn't everyone, except Disney, win?
There are plenty of factors that could stand in the way of this partnership -- maybe Turner isn't interested in the hefty price tag Simmons commands; maybe they're content with E.J. as the "straight guy" in their lineup; maybe Simmons is set on doing his own thing; maybe ESPN will realize what Simmons brings to the brand and will outbid everyone for his services -- but all we're saying is, this would be awesome. Are you listening, Bill and Ted?
Photoshop by Jake O'Donnell
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