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NBC Gets NBA for Four Years, $600 Million

November 10, 1989|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After this season, it will no longer be the NBA on CBS. It will be the NBA on NBC.

After a 17-year affiliation with CBS, the NBA switched television networks Thursday, announcing a four-year, $600-million deal with NBC starting with the 1990-91 season.

The contract breaks down to $150 million a season, a increase from the $44-million annual payment called for in the four-year, $176-million contract with CBS, which expires at the end of this season.

CBS has televised the NBA since the 1973-74 season.

CBS, as stipulated in its current contract, had a one-month exclusive negotiating period, which ended Oct. 31 without an agreement.

The NBA then made a proposal to CBS, which the network considered, but ended up turning down Tuesday.

The same proposal was offered to NBC and ABC on Wednesday. NBC said yes, ABC said no.

"We were shocked we even got this opportunity," said Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports. "All our people, with the exception of Arthur Watson (former NBC Sports president who has stayed on in an advisory role), believed CBS would pay whatever the NBA asked.

"What's even more amazing is that the figure is one that our people in sales say will allow us to make a profit or break even.

"NBC is the No. 1 network. We were not looking to sports to promote a dying prime-time lineup. This deal makes good business sense to us."

Ebersol said CBS has been making an annual profit of $40-$50 million off the NBA.

But add that profit to the $44 million CBS was paying in annual rights fee, and you still don't get $150 million.

So how does NBC figure it can make money?

One way is more regular-season exposure.

This season, CBS will have 16 telecasts. Next season, NBC figures to have 20 to 22, and that number is expected to increase in future seasons to 26.

There will be a November Sunday telecast, a Christmas telecast and a regular series of Sunday afternoon games beginning in January. There will be several Sunday doubleheaders.

Ebersol said NBC will not show one game in the West and another in the East on a regional basis. Each game will be shown nationally.

NBC will also have one more playoff telecast, up from 29 to 30. The fifth game of the Eastern Conference finals, which now belongs to cable, will be on NBC when its contract takes effect.

And there's good news for West Coast viewers. Ebersol said that, at the request of the NBA, there will be no playoff telecasts delayed until 11:30 p.m. Playoff telecasts will begin at 9 p.m. in the East, 6 p.m. in the West.

As for announcers, Ebersol said only that NBC has a stable of them.

Most likely, the No. 1 play-by-play announcer will be Marv Albert, who besides his network assignments with NBC is also the popular announcer of the New York Knicks.

Other play-by-play possibilities are Dick Enberg, Bob Costas and newcomer Joel Meyers.

NBC probably will hire its commentators.

Ebersol and NBA Commissioner David Stern, during a conference call with reporters Thursday, said that NBC will also televise the McDonald's Open, an exhibition tournament in Europe that was on ABC last month.

Another new aspect will be a Saturday morning magazine show. Ebersol described it as sort of an "Entertainment Tonight" for basketball fans.

To give an idea of how TV rights fees have grown, Stern pointed out that 10 years ago, in 1979, the league made less than $20 million from network and cable television.

That year marked the first venture into cable, with the USA network paying $400,000.

As recently as 1986, $33 million was all the NBA was making off television, with $22 million coming from CBS and $11 from two cable deals.

The huge increases coincide with the increased popularity of pro basketball.

"Here's something we noticed after the deal was made," Ebersol said. "The World Series this year, a four-game sweep, averaged a 16.4 rating and a 30 share. The NBA finals last June, also a four-game sweep, averaged a 15.1 and a 30 share.

"For the NBA finals to be getting the same share as the World Series tells us a lot."

The new contract is also a boon for NBA players, who, through their union contract, are guaranteed 53% of the league's gross revenues. That means that about $56 million more a year will be divided among the players on the 27 NBA teams.

That figures to about $2 million a team. Added to the current salary cap of $9.8 million a team, and with 12 players on each squad, the average salary would be right at $1 million.

Neal Pilson, CBS Sports president, said: "CBS regrets the loss of the NBA broadcast rights. However, the increase in the total cost of the package sought by the league . . . for the next four years was substantially more than we were prepared to pay.

"We wish the NBA a successful future and extend our congratulations to NBC. We look forward to our coverage of the NBA in the 1989-90 season."

Dennis Swanson, president of ABC Sports, said: "We offer our congratulations to NBC, and to the NBA for the way it conducted the negotiations."

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