There’s an old adage in basketball that says you can’t be afraid to mix it up with the big boys under the basket. Clearly, the NBA is ready for a showdown with cable operators and regional sports networks.
In a first for any major U.S. sports league, the NBA wants to stream live games on the Internet in local markets. Yes, you read that right: local markets.
The NBA is hoping to secure deals with the league’s 30 teams and cable operators to broadcast local games live on the Web in time for the 2008-2009 season, which will be starting soon [via Sports Business Journal].
“We hope to have a model in place this season,” NBA general counsel Bill Koenig said. “We believe that if we can draw more people to the interactive features, it will help bring in new [fans] and keep [fans] for a longer period of time.”
Currently no major U.S. sports leagues streams live local games. Major League Baseball offers a streaming package for out-of-market games, and the National Football League will be streaming games broadcast by NBC this season.
Streaming live games, especially ones targeted at a local market, is one of the most volatile issues leagues face as teams are trying to broaden their reach and broadcasters want to protect the rights to some of their most expensive programming.
Details of the plan are unclear. Each team gets to choose its own business model. Games will be geo-targeted, meaning they will be available to fans living in respective media markets such as the Mavericks in Dallas or the Celtics in Boston. It’s uncertain if the games will be hosted on each team’s Web site or a site of a regional sports network operator. Advertising within the feeds and who sells the ads also need to be worked out.
See also: Where to watch NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL online
Complicating matters, not all of the teams own their streaming rights, which they sold to regional sports networks along with TV rights. It’s highly doubtful that everything will be worked out for all 30 teams by the start of this season.
Even so, it’s encouraging that a major U.S. sports league is willing to take the next step to blend the TV and Web-viewing experiences.
If recent Web-streaming initiatives like March Madness, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and some of the Beijing Olympics are any indication, streaming live games, matches, or events (including local ones) is inevitable and preferred by younger audiences.
It’s time, no doubt, to mix it up in the paint.