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NBA Finalizes $4.6-Billion TV Contract

Pro basketball: ABC will air 15 games of week, plus Finals, but most games will be shown on cable outlets ESPN, TNT and a new network.


Will Al Michaels add the NBA to his resume? Will Marv Albert be limited to doing NBA games on TNT? Will John Saunders become the new Ahmad Rashad? Where will Bill Walton end up? Can TNT hold on to Charles Barkley?

Though the NBA's new six-year, $4.6-billion television contract finally was announced Tuesday, those are some of the questions that still have to be addressed.

"We have had no discussions with Al Michaels, the lead announcer for ABC Sports who would be a great addition to any package," ABC President Steve Bornstein said Tuesday. "Either have we had any discussions internally about any announcers."

Decisions on talent have been on the back burner. Bornstein, ESPN President George Bodenheimer, Turner Sports President Mark Lazarus, NBA Commissioner David Stern and the other principals involved in negotiating the contract have been too busy putting together a very complex deal.

News of a deal came out Dec. 14, but it took more than a month to work out the details.

"It was a legal Olympics," Stern told The Times. "All of this may have ruined a holiday, but we are very pleased. From a business context we have shown a 25% increase, we have obtained a 50% interest in a new network, and we are now involved with the two largest integrated companies in the world."

The Disney entry of ABC and ESPN will pay $2.4 billion over six years in rights fees, and AOL Time Warner will pay $2.2 billion. The combined average per year will be $766 million, which is $146 million more than NBC and Turner are paying in the final year of a four-year contract.

Also, the NBA, through AOL Time Warner, gets a 50% interest in a new cable channel that for now is being called ASN, All Sports Network.

If successful, industry experts say the equity in the channel could be worth as much as $1 billion to its two owners.

NBC executives have called the NBA a money loser, but Disney and AOL Time Warner executives believe it is a money winner because they are multimedia companies involved in broadcast and cable television, the Internet, radio and print.

"NBC did a great job on the NBA and it was a great partnership where both sides benefited," Disney President Bob Iger told The Times. "Not to take anything away from them, but what helped us greatly is our multi-platform approach and an overall package that includes the ESPN aegis and makes us more attractive than a single-platform owner."

The new contract, which takes effect next season, will:

* Put 15 Sunday game of the week regular-season telecasts on ABC.

* Put the NBA Finals on ABC.

* Put other playoff games on TNT and ESPN, with the conference finals and conference semifinals being exclusive to those networks.

* Put an exclusive Thursday night doubleheader on TNT, meaning those games cannot also be carried by local carriers such as Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net.

* Put the All-Star game on TNT.

* Put 75 regular-season games on ESPN with no local blackouts, meaning Laker and Clipper telecasts will appear on both the local carrier and ESPN. ESPN will have a single telecast on Wednesdays and a doubleheader on Fridays.

* Put 75 regular-season telecasts on the new cable network.

Stern said the exclusive Thursday night telecasts on TNT will not reduce the number of local telecasts from carriers such as Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net because ABC and TNT combined will be limited to the same number of exclusive telecasts (11 per team) that NBC has.

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