When the NBA announced its six-year, $4.6 billion television contract last week, team executives applauded commissioner David Stern for increasing their take from TV despite the league's diminishing ratings and the lousy economic climate. There were substantial trade-offs, however. The NBA acceded to the networks by awarding them a contract two years longer than it normally has. The market will also be flooded with 238 regular-season games on ABC, ESPN, Turner and the new channel to be co-owned by the NBA and AOL Time Warner (parent company of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED). By comparison, NBC and Turner will televise 110 games this season. Will airing twice as many games make each one less compelling viewing?
The average annual income of $766 million from the new TV contract amounts to a $150 million gain over the current deals with NBC and Turner, which expire this year. Because both the current and future contracts are heavily back-loaded, NBA officials admit the league will experience a one-time drop in revenue next season when the new contract begins. Many team executives believe that as a result, the salary cap may hold steady or drop slightly for the first time, from its current level of $42.5 million.
What that means is that teams like the Spurs, the Heat and the Magic, which have been gearing up for the next big free-agent class, in the summer of 2003, will probably have less room under the cap to pursue an expensive star like Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Antonio McDyess, Jermaine O'Neal or Baron Davis. Suddenly the strategy of saving money to create cap room doesn't look so appealing.
Play of the Week
Triple or Nothing
Trailing the Heat 95-93 with three seconds left in overtime, the Cavaliers tried to win the game on a Jumaine Jones three-pointer in large part because their center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, would not have been available to play in the second OT. Ilgauskas, who is supposed to play no more than 28 minutes per game because of his fragile feet, had already logged a season-high 31. Jones missed his shot at the buzzer, sending Cleveland to its 10th consecutive defeat.
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