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Volume 20 No. 46
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A new NBA: Silver creates media panel

New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has selected seven team governors to advise him on the league’s coming media talks, providing the surest sign yet that those negotiations are about to become much more intense.

An exclusive negotiating window for the NBA’s current media partners does not open for another year, sources said. But the league has told ESPN and Turner executives that they plan to start negotiating a new deal in the second half of the current season.

Silver is no stranger to TV negotiations, having played a key role in prior league media deals, but his decision to create a formal media committee pegged to the upcoming deals represents a more inclusive approach from past negotiations that he led with former commissioner David Stern. Also noteworthy is that the group is called a “media committee” and not a “television committee,” as the NBA is expected to add other digital rights as part of its new deal.

The league recently informed teams about the creation of the media committee, saying it will “provide direction to the League Office and be involved in the negotiations.”

Silver’s creation of the seven-member group is a first step to those negotiations, with the committee providing a cross-section of the NBA’s landscape. There are executives from both small and large markets, with Utah’s Greg Miller and Chicago’s Michael Reinsdorf included. The selections also provide a range of media experience — from cable distribution and programming (New York’s James Dolan) to digital distribution and programming (Washington’s Ted Leonsis). Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio’s Peter Holt and Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett round out the group, bringing their diverse business backgrounds, their teams’ varied market sizes and their history with key league-level decisions.

The committee will work with Silver and new NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum in representing teams as the league looks to land a new deal expected to be a windfall for the owners.

ESPN and Turner have 2 1/2 years remaining on their eight-year, $7.5 billion deal that expires after the 2015-16 season. But sources with both media companies have said that they would like to renegotiate their deals early to keep the NBA from taking its rights to the open market — where the presence of other media companies like Fox Sports Group and NBC Sports Group could create a bidding war.

On the NBA’s side, it is interested in cutting a deal early to take advantage of the current red-hot market for live sports TV rights. There’s no certainty that the market will be as strong, or that there will be as many serious bidders, if the league waits until 2016.

The new deal stands at the top of Silver’s to-do list as he begins his tenure as NBA commissioner. That transfer from Stern to Silver officially occurred this past Saturday.