Continuing the trend of breaking apart cable packages, the NBA announced after the 2015 NBA Finals that beginning next season they will be making changes to their League Pass. In existence since 1994, the League Pass for the 2014-2015 season cost $200 and provided subscribers access to over 1,000 games that were not already available on a local sports network in the region. This plan was offered through TV providers and directly from the NBA via their own online video platform designed for iOS, Android, and desktop computers.
The changes in the NBA League Pass bundling will allow subscribers to purchase season-long access for a single team or purchase access to individual games. Although the official pricing tiers will not be released until July 2015, industry experts expect that following a single team for the season will range in cost from $50 to $100, while individual game prices will be in the $2 to $5 range. The latest speculation is that the prices for these tiers will be consistent across markets and teams, regardless of their size or popularity. However, the one restriction will be that this unbundled package will only be offered through the NBA’s video platform, rather than through the television providers. In light of this announcement, there have been discussions to resolve some areas of concern between the NBA and their broadcast partners, including ESPN, Turner Networks, and regional sports networks, such as the Los Angeles Lakers’ SportsNet.
While analysts praise the NBA for making this decision, and stress the new growth this move is bound to bring to Commissioner Adam Silver’s league, the NBA is bucking the trend of the other professional sports leagues in how they offer their products. MLB and the NHL also have sports packages, while the most famous, and controversial one, is the NFL’s Sunday Ticket Package, which has also been in existence since 1994. Offered exclusively through DirecTV, a lawsuit was filed recently claiming that the NFL’s package structure and use of blackouts are in violation of federal law and need to be overturned. While this lawsuit is just beginning, a recent development in a case involving NHL blackouts and bundled packages may ultimately impact the case against the NFL. The settlement in the NHL case means that for the next five years fans will be able to purchase a package online, known as Game Center Live, that allows them to follow a single team at prices more than 20% below the current cost of bundled packages. Legal experts expect the lawsuit against MLB to be resolved in the same way. All of this suggests that while television providers may be unhappy with the NBA’s voluntary decision to provide a non-bundled package, it may spare the NBA costly legal battles in the future.