Apple has expressed interest but cannot bid just yet

According to a report, Apple has expressed interest in acquiring NBA streaming rights for Apple TV+, but existing agreements mean it can’t make a formal offer.

Disney’s ESPN currently holds the exclusive TV rights to the National Basketball Association games and said the network “hopes” to keep them, but a comment from the company’s CEO suggests it’s considering the NBA as a nice-to- have than could consider as an essential part of its offer …

CNBC reports that NBC Sports, Apple and Amazon are three companies interested in acquiring at least some of the rights, but none of them are able to make a formal offer at this stage.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal is preparing to make a strong bid to regain the National Basketball Association’s broadcast rights, more than 20 years after the company lost them to Disney
and Turner Sports, according to people familiar with the matter […]

Apple and Amazon have also expressed interest to the NBA in buying carved streaming packages, people familiar with the matter said. Amazon currently has a deal with the NBA that allows it to stream games in Brazil.

No formal discussions can take place with non-acting bidders unless Warner Bros. Discovery, owners of Turner Sports, and Disney agree to waive their exclusive negotiation window, which according to people familiar with the matter ends in April 2024.

The report says Disney is likely to make an offer to retain the rights, but a comment from CEO Bob Iger suggests it may not be as generous as the NBA would hope. NBA reporter Mike Workunov Highlighted remarks made during the company’s recent conference call.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said he hopes to keep the NBA rights, but he’s spoken to ESPN Prez Jimmy Pitaro that “we just have to be more selective about buying more sports rights” with the intention of getting ESPN from to switch linearly to ESPN+.

Iger said this on Disney’s Earnings Call last week:

“We’ve already closed a number of deals, including some of the biggest in college football, with the SEC and the NFL. The one that is emerging is the NBA. I know that’s on people’s minds. This is a product we love and hope to continue to enjoy. Because not just its volume, but its quality.”

He continued, “ESPN has been selective in the rights it purchases. I’ve talked to Jimmy Pitaro about this for a long time and we have some decisions to make. Not on anything particularly big, but on a few things. And we just have to be more selective. ESPN+ has actually grown well for us, and it showed us that the ESPN brand can be enjoyed and expressed well as a streaming brand, and I think we’ll continue to look at that as a potential pivot for ESPN to do that linear business. But we will not rush into it. We only do that when it really makes economic sense.”

This could potentially result in NBA streaming rights being split from broadcast rights, with Apple making a bid for the former. A non-exclusive deal is also possible with CNBC suggesting deals could be struck with three or four different companies. These may apply to separate packages, but there may also be overlaps.

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