In a critical NBA season, with rights renewals on the horizon and a pair of major experiments unfolding, Warner Bros. Discovery is still exuding confidence in its stewardship of the league’s TV rights.
“We’re basically sold out for opening week,” says Jon Diament, who leads advertising sales for WBD Sports.
Indeed, in an advertising market that’s still in a slump (“we absolutely have had an ad recession for the past couple of years,” one top ad executive said at New York Advertising Week last week), sports is the bright spot, continuing to grow year over year with strong demand, even if demand for everything else is hit or miss.
“The marketplace is pretty positive for live sports, especially when it comes to bigger sports like the NBA,” Diament says. “The NBA is a stable product with consistent ratings and is demographically quite sound, especially when it comes to younger audiences.”
The NBA, the executive says “has done an amazing job connecting with fans 365, 24/7 with all their digital products and with the popularity of betting for example, and all the trades that have happened and all the stars that have emerged for the league.”
“The result is that interest in the sport “is really coming out with a lot of momentum for the market in the fourth quarter,” he adds. “I would also say live sports is in a much different place than some of the other genres.”
And neither the NBA or WBD Sports are resting on their laurels.
The league is launching a major test this season with a new, in-season tournament. The semifinals and championship game will be held in Las Vegas, a city without an NBA team (but which is suddenly at the center of the ports world, between next year’s Super Bowl, the Oakland Athletics moving there, and Formula 1’s debut race next month).
“These in-season tournaments exist in Europe for a lot of the soccer programs,” Diament says. “So we’re excited that the league is being innovative.”
WBD and ESPN, the NBA’s two media partners, are “working with league on selling that inventory and creating cool sponsorship opportunities,” Diament says, adding that “you’ll probably see some new sponsors to the league because of this new element.”
And WBD Sports is trying to both turn the return of the NBA season into an event for TNT (Turner Sports first acquired NBA rights 40 years ago), but also is using the NBA season to launch its sports streaming option on Max.
On the event front, WBD Sports will kick off the season in Denver with the Nuggets hosting the Los Angeles Lakers. The company is going all-out in Denver with a roadshow (sponsored by American Express) meant to drum up interest in the game and the season … and providing content to boot.
“So of course we’re going to be showcasing the game, but we will also have an extensive pregame with a concert and a live activation in Denver where the championship rings will be on display with the commissioner there,” Diament says. “So we will have a concert with The Chainsmokers and Dermot Kennedy, the concert will be part of our television experience but it’ll also be live on on YouTube. So you know we’ll have elements of on-ground-event marketing, if you will, around it.”
The company is planning “some really cool integrations” featuring Google and AT&T as well.
And then there’s B/R Sports on Max, the Bleacher Report-branded sports tier now available on the streaming service Max. It’s free for now, but will eventually cost $10 per month.
Diament says the response from the advertising community has been strong.
“You have a combination of live and VOD, all ad supported,” he says, noting that the ads on the sports tier will also be accessible to soncumers on adfree plans. “So there’s new elements for the sports marketplace, and advertisers love reaching new audiences on new platforms.”