Every major sports organization in America has a major day of the week — Saturdays for NCAA football and basketball, random afternoon work ditch-days for Major League Baseball, and all 365 days of the year for the NFL. The NBA has typically placed its weekly marquee contests on Thursday night TNT broadcasts and post-NFL Sunday doubleheaders on ABC, and it doesn't seem as if they're prepared to give up those premier events in any meaningful way.
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Beginning in January, ESPN on ABC will launch a new, weekly prime-time NBA series with the debut of Saturday Night NBA on ABC. The exclusive, eight-game schedule – featuring the sport’s biggest stars and most compelling matchups – will begin January 23, 2016 with weekly game telecasts at 8:30 p.m. ET. NBA Countdown – ABC’s and ESPN’s NBA pre-game show – will precede the games at 8 p.m. The announcement was made today by ESPN President John Skipper and Disney/ABC TV President Ben Sherwood. Game selections will be announced in the coming weeks. (The ABC schedule is below).
As a result of this new prime-time series, ABC and ESPN will now combine to televise NBA games four days per week (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday), January-April, including three in prime-time. ABC had previously aired doubleheaders on Sundays as part of its NBA Sunday Showcase and will now air one exclusive game on Saturday nights and one on Sunday afternoons. In total, ABC will broadcast 16 exclusive regular-season NBA games, beginning on Christmas Day. ESPN will continue to televise weekly, prime-time doubleheaders on Wednesdays and Fridays, generally at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. throughout the regular-season.
The NBA typically releases the regular season schedule in late July or early August, so we should find out soon if the talk of the Saturday broadcasts featuring "the sport's biggest stars and most compelling matchups" is truthful or a marketing ploy. Nevertheless, the idea makes sense for both the NBA and ESPN. It's usually been easy to overlook the league's Saturday slates given the lack of national broadcasts and the value of weekend free time to fans, but the presence of a marquee game that everyone can watch could drive greater interest. After all, people have taken to TNT's Thursday broadcasts, and that day features more TV viewing options than any other with the possible exception of Sunday. Unless fans have Saturday night plans, they're probably going to choose to watch a good NBA game.
Meanwhile, ABC and ESPN get to air popular, live shows on a night most other networks treat as a programming graveyard. The only problem, really, is that ESPN already airs a prominent college basketball game every Saturday night around the same time. Yet ESPN president John Skipper compares ABC's NBA broadcast to their high-profile college football broadcasts in the fall, which usually air alongside other, regionally diverse games on ESPN and ESPN2. NBA and NCAA basketball arguably have less crossover potential than those competing football games, so ESPN isn't taking much of a chance.
Fans with non-basketball interests may rue a new test of their commitment to living a diverse life, but that's ultimately a personal problem that falls outside the purview of commissioner Adam Silver and his friends in Bristol. Plus, they have given us all a reprieve from spending five hours in front of the TV on Sunday afternoons. That was previously only possible when they'd scheduled the Knicks and Lakers.
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