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NBA commissioner says social companies could provide global reach

At a sports media conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said digital and social media companies could emerge as significant rights-holders internationally.

Silver, during his concluding keynote address at the Sports Video Group Summit in New York on Dec. 13, noted "our package of games are locked up for the next nine years, but that's just in the U.S." Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN (US) and ABC (US) and Time Warner Inc.'s TNT (US) are in the early days of a nine-year pact running through the 2024-25 season, valued at a combined $24 billion.

However, the NBA is televised in 215 countries and territories, "so there are lot of places to experiment," said Silver.

Silver said companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. are armed with data and understand who fans and viewers are. That could prove attractive, he said, in trying to reach certain audiences around the globe, including fans in countries in Latin America, Europe and Africa. He also singled out the "burgeoning basketball interest in India."

"There are lot of exciting things we can do there right away and then see what happens in the U.S.," he said.

Given interest in the NBA in the world’s largest nation, Silver also said there has been talk with teams about tipping off a select weekday contest at 10 a.m. on the East Coast, which would turn the 12-hour time difference into a primetime telecast in China.

Considering that "the largest audience we can reach is outside the U.S.," he said that is something the league will look to over time.

"It's a lot easier than traveling to China," Silver said.

Stateside, Silver is happy with the state of regional and national telecasts, saying he marvels at the quality of high-definition views provided on linear TV, as well as how the games look when streamed on phones and tablets as part of the out-of-market League Pass package.

"It's definitely the golden age of quality sports production," he said, adding that NBA viewership has never been higher.

As to whatever downturn the NFL experienced with ratings during the first half of this season, Silver said viewers have bounced back post-election. He noted NBC's "Sunday Night Football" coverage of the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game on Dec. 11 was the league's largest prime-time audience for a Week 14 game in 27 years. MLB also had its most-watched Game 7 of the World Series in 25 years with the Chicago Cubs-Cleveland epic contest, and the NBA had its top-rated Game 7 of The Finals in almost 20 years when Cleveland dethroned Golden State in June.

He noted that even with the NFL ratings downturn during the first part of the season, the pro football league said its reach was essentially the same and just the time spent viewing declined.

"That’s a better problem for people in this room," Silver said, because he believes it is much more difficult to find new consumers/fans for the NBA and NFL than getting existing enthusiasts to watch more game action.

To move the ratings needle, he thinks increases can be achieved through the deployment of new camera angles, such as the integration of tighter shots that are now available on Mobile View as part of League Pass, into the linear telecasts. New kinds of audio enhancements, interviews and a fresh approach to putting data to use in forms that can "create understandable narratives for our fans" could also help.

Silver said the NBA and other sports leagues have to compete for younger viewers and to "garner their attention and engagement." He said storytelling on telecasts and on digital and social media outlets are key drivers to getting millennials and kids interested in sports, not only in terms of consuming highlights but making them fans for life. That includes watching telecasts with their families and attending games.

"You just don't want their consumption to be bite-sized," he said.