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Fox “highly unlikely” to bid for NBA domestic broadcast rights, says CEO

Lachlan Murdoch claims Fox is trying to balance live sports portfolio.

18 May 2023 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • Murdoch believes traditional broadcasting still trumps streaming as best place for sport
  • Incumbent NBA broadcasters Disney and WBD both eye extensions from 2025
  • NBC, Apple and Amazon also linked with bids

Fox chief executive Lachlan Murdoch has distanced the media giant from the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) next domestic broadcast rights tender, saying it is “highly unlikely” the company will make a bid.

The NBA’s current rights pact with Disney-owned ESPN and Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) Turner Sports, signed in 2014, ends after the 2024/25 season and is worth US$24 billion. The league is reportedly eyeing a US$75 billion deal for the next cycle.

According to CNBC, the NBA is unlikely to just stick with Disney and WBD, even though both intend to extend their contracts, and could carve out new packages to attract more bidders. Unless waived, ESPN and Turner have an exclusive window to discuss extending their deals, meaning no formal discussions with other broadcasters can take place until April 2024.

The league is said to be thinking of selling an exclusive streaming package, which it hopes could fetch at least US$1 billion. The likes of NBCUniversal, Apple and Amazon have all been linked with bids, but Murdoch said Fox had little interest in joining the fray.

“I hate to disappoint [the league], but we are highly unlikely to bid on the NBA,” said Murdoch, who was speaking at the SVB MoffettNathanson Technology, Media and Telecom Conference.

“We look at our sports portfolio and try to balance it overall. And in doing so, I think it’s highly unlikely that we would bid on the NBA.”

Fox’s current live sports slate includes Major League Baseball (MLB), Nascar and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). While Murdoch acknowledged the vast sums being pumped into streaming, along with the likes of Apple and Amazon entering the market, he said broadcast networks were still the optimum destination for sports properties due to them offering the most reach.

“Overall, why would sports leagues choose to partner with us as opposed to people with bigger balance sheets – maybe not [a] more healthy balance sheet – but bigger balance sheets?” said Murdoch.

“The answer to that is really reach, right? Broadcast is still the best place for sports and, frankly, if I were an NFL owner or an NBA owner or a team owner, I would want to be on broadcast TV.”

SportsPro says…

Fox is very much an outlier when it comes to the US media market as it is still without a premium streaming product. Tubi, which was acquired for US$440 million in 2020, does provide a digital option for Fox with its free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) offering and a monthly userbase which now tops 54 million.

However, there is currently a clear reluctance to leverage Tubi for anything beyond its current scope at this point. That strategy rules out Tubi economically as an option for the Fox to use as a destination for live NBA because the platform is unable to provide the monetisation scale up necessary to balance the books on that kind of partnership.

While the league may pursue an additional domestic broadcast partner for a big package of games, that is unlikely to be a linear network. So, with Murdoch insisting that Fox does not have the financial might – or will – to get into a bidding war with Disney or WBD, ruling out an NBA deal should not be too much of a surprise.

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