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The NBA Will Let Cable Subscribers Stream Local Games for Free

Donatas Motiejūnas of the Houston Rockets dunks the ball during a game against the Dallas Mavericks

Photograph by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Donatas Motiejūnas of the Houston Rockets dunks the ball during a game against the Dallas Mavericks

The National Basketball Association is close to signing agreements that would allow cable customers in many markets to watch their local teams live online, a first for a major sports league in the U.S. Sports Business Journal has the story:

“The league is finalizing TV Everywhere deals with Fox Sports Media Group (FOXA) and NBC Sports Group (CMCSA), the country’s two biggest owners of regional sports networks. Other RSNs, such as Root Sports, MSG (MSG), Time Warner Cable Sports (TWC), and Altitude Sports and Entertainment, are expected to offer live in-market streaming later this season.”

The plans, which will require viewers to authenticate their cable subscriptions, follow years of wrangling between the NBA and programmers over the cost of games and where they will live online. The league buckled on both counts. Regional sports networks will not have to pay extra for digital rights, and the games will be hosted on their websites. (This service is separate from the NBA’s existing League Pass pay package for out-of-market games.)

It’s a victory for viewers, who will get expanded service at no additional cost, and a sign that the NBA knows that fan expectations have changed. Leagues and programmers never tire of explaining that sports are the last refuge of live TV—and the lifeblood of the cable industry. Fans (at least in the U.S.) so far seem willing to put up with ever-rising costs. But they want to be able to watch live games, in-market or out, on whichever screen suits them.

The NBA doesn’t make money in this new arrangement, at least not upfront, but it should make fans happy. The money will follow.

Boudway is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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