National Basketball Association is meeting with several Spanish-language broadcasters to find ways to make its games more attractive to Hispanic viewers.
Telemundo, owned by NBC Universal, held the Spanish-language broadcast rights to the NBA under a three-year deal that paid the NBA $2 million to $3 million annually and recently expired. Cable rights are held by ESPN Deportes.
An NBA source said the league is talking to Telemundo about a renewal of the package, which included 15 games on Saturday afternoons.
“We are currently working with them to move forward, to look for the best plan to continue the growth that they’ve seen,” the NBA source said.
But the source also said the league has been approached by other foreign-language broadcasters, including Spanish-language powerhouse Univision.
“We are in active discussions with a number of potential partners, but we are looking to grow the Telemundo relationship as well,” the source said.
A Univision spokesperson could not confirm talks with the NBA. A source close to the reticent network questioned why Univision would be interested in programming that has drawn relatively low ratings.
But another source familiar with the talks said that the NBA appeals to 18- to 34- year-old viewers, who are an attractive part of Univision’s viewership. The NBA would also provide programming that is familiar to media buyers, most of whom don’t watch or understand the telenovelas that drive Univision’s ratings.
Telemundo’s deal with the NBA calls for it to televise games on Saturday afternoons, which means the games air opposite soccer games on Univision. The arrangement also calls for local blackouts in the home markets in which the teams in the TV game play. Blackouts are designed to protect the home team’s ticket sales and the rights of the local English-language TV rights holder. So when the Los Angeles Lakers play the Miami Heat, an attractive match-up, the game is not shown on Telemundo stations in Los Angeles or Miami, two cities with big Hispanic populations. Instead, the local Telemundo stations must show alternate programming, such as a movie.
That arrangement has limited the ability of the NBA to draw Spanish-speaking viewers, a Telemundo spokesman said.
“We’ve had a good experience,” the spokesman said, adding, “I don’t think the ratings have been where we expected them” due in part to competition from soccer and the blackout situation. The NBA said that its ratings on Telemundo this season were up 15 percent overall, showing bigger gains among male demographics. The NBA was up 50 percent among men 18 to 34 (a demographic Univision brags about), up 25 percent among men 18 to 49 and up 67 percent among men 25 to 54.
Nevertheless, the league is looking to address the scheduling problems.
One option being considered is moving the games to a better, more consistent time slot. A Monday night game in prime time is one option under discussion, the NBA source confirmed. The league is also looking to relieve the blackout situation by providing an attractive blackout game, so when the Lakers play the Heat, viewers in L.A. and Miami can watch a game such as San Antonio vs. New York.
“Every time these contracts come up for renewal we always look at doing some changes, and I think that’s part of the conversations that are going on right now,” the Telemundo spokesman said.