Apple's thirst for sports could add live NBA games to MLS and MLB as streaming deal talks get ready for tip-off

Two men playing basketball
(Image credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw)

NBA fans could soon have a new way to watch their favorite games with the TV and streaming deals for live games set to enter a whole new era at the end of the 2024/25 season. And according to one new report, Apple is among the companies that could be involved in the shakeup.

NBA games are currently shown via ESPN/ABC and TNT Sports and while the pair are thought to remain keen on retaining their rights, there is no guarantee that will happen. On Monday at 11:59 p.m. ET, the exclusive financial negotiation window between the NBA, ESPN, and TNT Sports will close and that will allow executives at other companies to get involved in proper talks. Those talks will include huge sums of money with Google and Netflix thought to have one eye on future NBA streaming rights. But there's one player waiting in the wings with pockets deeper than most — Apple.

According to the report Apple is one of the companies keeping tabs on proceedings. Should a deal be struck, live NBA games could come to the Apple TV app for the first time, joining MLS and MLB content. It wouldn't be all that much of a surprise, either, with Apple having long been rumored to have designs on adding more sports and leagues to its roster. Soccer in the form of the English Premier League and France's Ligue 1 have been discussed before, while there was a chance that NFL games could arrive. None of that has happened so far, but now it's the NBA's turn to capture Apple's interest.

10-year deal

This latest news comes via a paywalled report at The Athletic which notes that NBA commissioner Adam Silver and his lieutenants are keen to sign a deal that will run for a decade or longer. Back in 2014 ESPN and TNT both renewed their existing contracts for a combined $2.6 billion, on average, per season over nine years. 10 years later, we can expect the figures to be very different.

"There will be at least three separate packages, which is the NBA’s preference, but the idea of four has not been ruled out, " the report explains, citing people briefed on discussions.

However, while Apple and others will no doubt be part of the equation, there is no guarantee that the NBA won't go a different route. "The notion that a pure streamer, like Amazon, could have significant games, including conference finals and perhaps even the NBA Finals at some point over the life of a long-term deal is a possibility," the report adds. But the NBA seems keen to offer content directly to fans in an attempt to ensure access is maintained as more cable companies go to the wall.

"For example, in New York, the Knicks are available on cable through MSG Network or with MSGN’s direct-to-consumer subscription app," The Athletic says. "The NBA could try to sell Knicks games directly to fans on a local level, as a season pass or per game. MSGN offers the same type of service, but also includes other programming."

Fans who want to watch NBA content via their iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and of course the Apple Vision Pro can do so via the NBA League Pass subscription offering, but even that could be going away as its own deal ends at the same time as the others. It's important to remember that even if Apple does pick up NBA games, they are very unlikely to be offered free and rolled into Apple TV Plus. Instead, a separate subscription similar to MLS Season Pass seems most likely. If that is the case, however, Apple TV Plus subscribers can at least expect a slight discount on their new subscription.

Could Apple ultimately offer an Apple TV Plus Sports subscription, bundling all of its sporting content together? It's what cable and satellite TV companies have been doing for decades, after all.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.