by Tim Reynolds AP writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The NBA is keeping a constant eye on the status of the financial problems that some regional sports networks are trying to address, and there does not appear to be immediate concern about what will happen if the owner of those networks files for bankruptcy.
Los Angeles Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer said Friday that the league provides teams with updates on the situation involving Diamond Sports Group — the largest owner of regional sports networks that owns broadcast rights to 42 professional teams, including 16 NBA clubs.
Diamond, the parent company of 19 Bally Sports networks, skipped about $140 million in interest payments that were due Wednesday, starting a 30-day grace period that could be the prelude to a bankruptcy filing.
Ballmer cautioned that the specifics of what may be happening behind the scenes “changes day to day, minute to minute.”
“Will there be distribution of NBA games? Yes. Will that happen through the RSNs? I actually hope so. I hope so,” Ballmer told The Associated Press. “Will their bankruptcy be friendly enough for that to happen? I hope so. Will the creditors probably want our games to continue to get distributed? I think so. So somehow, I have faith without knowledge that we’ll get through this.”
Ballmer spoke Friday on a panel that discussed how the rise in streaming services is creating additional competition for consumer attention as part of the NBA’s Tech Summit, an annual part of the league’s All-Star weekend. The panel discussion was off the record, but he spoke to AP after the event.
Plans in the works
Commissioner Adam Silver did publicly unveil new personalized options that the league intends to have as part of the future live-game streaming experience — including a feature where fans can scan their own avatar into a live NBA game and have that image replace an actual player by using the league app.
The NBA is also planning more customized experiences for those choosing to stream games through the app, including alternate languages, integrated betting and enhanced camera angles.
The challenge for cable is not a new issue: Cord-cutting has become more and more prevalent in recent years, with some industry experts suggesting that two of every five U.S. television households right now are going the streaming route instead of traditional cable or satellite providers.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that games could be offered digitally in conjunction with MLB.TV if Bally Sports regional networks are no longer broadcasting them – even pointing out that a silver lining of sorts could be baseball getting a chance to address blackout restrictions.
NHL also seeking other alternatives
The National Hockey League said it, too, is monitoring the situation and “will be prepared to address whatever circumstances dictate to provide our fans with access to our games.”
The NBA has been looking for ways to ensure its fans — the overwhelming majority of whom never go to a game — remain connected. Part of that strategy was a reimagined app offering better streaming options and access to more highlights.
And in October, the Clippers came out with their own first-of-its-kind answer — a direct-to-consumer product featuring six different stream options, with more in the planning stages, and without any pay-television subscription required.
The NBA’s digital platform, which powers the league’s updated app, was the vehicle the Clippers leveraged to make their idea for what they call ClipperVision happen.
“I think it’s important that we be able to distribute our games digitally,” Ballmer said.