ESPN President John Skipper and Disney/ABC TV President Ben Sherwood announced today the launch of Saturday Night NBA on ABC – a new, weekly prime-time NBA series. The exclusive, eight-game slate will debut on Jan. 23, 2016, and will feature the NBA’s biggest stars, top teams, best rivalries and most compelling matchups.
ESPN Vice President of League Sports Programming, Julie Sobieski who played a key role in the creation of this series, discusses with Front Row how it came together and what to expect.
What is the significance of this new series for the NBA on ABC (and ESPN)?
The NBA is truly an ascendant sport. It is tremendously popular in the U.S. and globally – and it’s only growing, as evidenced by the recent NBA Finals. With Saturday Night NBA on ABC, we will expand upon the success of ABC’s NBA Sunday Showcase package and our successful ESPN prime-time packages. The new series will have a ‘big-game’ feel and will feature the very best that the NBA has to offer in terms of star players and title-contending teams. Following our most-watched NBA Finals ever on ABC and double-digit increases from NBA Christmas Day last season, we have a great chance to continue the momentum.
Does this Saturday package consist of new games that ESPN and ABC have purchased?
No. We’ve created this new series within the existing framework of our current rights agreement. ABC has previously aired doubleheaders as part of its NBA Sunday Showcase. For Saturday Night NBA on ABC, we are moving ABC games from our existing allotment on Sunday to Saturday. Now, ABC will broadcast one exclusive game on Saturday nights and one on Sunday afternoons.
What is the larger strategy behind showcasing some ESPN content on ABC?
Each situation is different and this is actually not a new approach. ABC has always been an important platform for ESPN and it will continue to play a key role in our NBA coverage, in particular. With the success of Saturday Night Football (college football) on ABC and the growing popularity of the NBA, we are excited about the prospect of creating another successful prime-time sports series on ABC. With the creation of this new series, ESPN and ABC will now have NBA games four days per week (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) from January through April, including three nights in prime time.
Was there any discussion about moving this package of games to ESPN?
ABC has and will continue to play a key role in our NBA coverage during the regular-season and playoffs. There is a strong, established audience, and the NBA fits into the network’s event strategy. Both ESPN and ABC will continue to showcase high-quality, NBA regular-season and postseason games. A year from now, when our new NBA rights deal begins prior to the 2016-17 season, we will have 10 incremental games which we have the ability to add to our ESPN schedule.