Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski—the only person on earth possessing a supply of #WojBombs—has joined Fox Sports.
The press release says that he will contribute to Fox Sports 1’s Fox Sports Live (their version of SportsCenter), as well as something called “America’s Pregame”, an early evening show that previews the upcoming nightly action. More importantly, however, is this line: “His news breaks, insider information and award-winning columns will continue to appear on the Yahoo web platform.”
Wojnarowski’s first appearance on Fox Sports Live provided a glimpse of how the network will use him. The host asked him for the latest on the New York Knicks coaching search, and in a couple of minutes Wojnarowski broke down who was in, out, and what he was hearing. Richard Deitsch reported that Wojnarowski will have a camera in his home—he lives in the Northeast, while Fox Sports is based out of Los Angeles—and the network will feature him from his home when NBA news breaks.
All-in-all, it is a solid but relatively inconsequential move for Fox Sports 1. They came out of the gate last year as the fun and zany sports network, questionable branding considering ESPN’s television programs are nobody’s idea of “intellectual and boring”. That strategy predictably failed, and now Wojnarowski joins college football writer Bruce Feldman as solid hires in the “real reporting” category. But Wojnarowski will still write for Yahoo and break news for Yahoo…he’ll just appear on Fox Sports 1 afterwards to explain it. Fox Sports is renting his reporting credibility to avoid having to build and pay for their own.
More important is what this move potentially signals for the future of the NBA. In his piece breaking the news, Jason McIntyre revealed that a Fox Sports source told him told him, “Fox Sports 1 is most likely to get one night a week in the NBA’s new TV deal – probably Saturday night.”
The NBA has been shown nationally only on ABC/ESPN and TNT since the 2002-03 season. The NBA on NBC—and its iconic anthem Roundball Rock—had been a mainstay since 1989, but lost out in 2001 when its bid for the upcoming rights contract was drastically beaten by ABC/ESPN and TNT’s combined one. Fox has never televised the NBA before.
There have long been whispers that Fox—and less likely NBC—was going to try to get in on the deal, and whether or not they ultimately do manage to secure the rights, this seems to indicate that they are at least seriously pursuing. But McIntyre’s report raises more questions than it answers. Currently TNT broadcasts doubleheaders on Thursday, ESPN broadcasts one or two games on Wednesday and Friday, and ABC broadcasts Sunday doubleheaders when football season ends. In total there are 142 nationally broadcast games (not including NBA TV).
Would Fox’s Saturday night package be in addition to the 90 games ABC/ESPN and 52 games TNT get—presumably taking games away from NBA TV—or might ABC/ESPN get a smaller package? Why would Fox accept a Saturday night package when Saturday, because of college football, is already its strongest day? Would the NBA consider giving Fox a Monday night package (which ABC/ESPN would surely object to) and decide once and for all to go head-to-head against the NFL?
What is clear is that the value of the next media rights deal is skyrocketing as we speak. The last deal was worth $930 million to the NBA per year, and most initial guesses I have seen for the value of the new one are in the $1.7 to $2.2 billion range. In the last few months, however, almost everything has come up aces for the league. Next year’s salary cap is currently projected to increase by 7.7%, not the initially assumed 4.5%, reflecting higher-than-expected league revenues. The Milwaukee Bucks—one of the worst teams in the league, in one of the smallest markets, with a very old arena—were recently sold for $550 million, far outstripping Forbes valuation of $405 million. The NBA is forcing out its least sponsor-friendly owner, and Bill Simmons is reporting (take that with however much grain of salt it deserves) that the Clippers—Forbes values them at $575 million—won’t sell for any less than TWO BILLION DOLLARS!!
Fans are pouring money into the league, new owners are pouring money into the league, and the NBA broadcasting contract is the last major sports rights contract to be up for negotiation a few years. It is a perfect storm that ends with the NBA drenched in money.
A likely consequence that should kill the high the NBA is currently feeling? The National Basketball Players Association understanding all of this and opting out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017 and demanding some of the money they gave back in 2011.