ESPN deal ends NBA’s UK blackout

Pay-television broadcaster ESPN has agreed a deal for television rights in the UK and Ireland for the remainder of the US National Basketball Association’s 2012-13 season.

The deal marks the end of a ‘blackout’ for NBA coverage on UK television this season – it is the first UK television rights deal for 2012-13, although the season started five weeks ago.

ESPN will begin its coverage of the North American league’s current season tomorrow. It will televise three live games per week throughout the regular season, plus the NBA All-Star Game, first- and second-round NBA Playoff coverage, the Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.

ESPN will also show its own NBA Tonight and NBA Countdown studio shows, which are produced by its sister channels in the US, providing round-ups of the latest news from the league.

ESPN previously held the NBA’s UK rights in a deal that ended last season.

The league had also been in discussions with rival pay-television broadcaster BSkyB over a rights deal for this season.

NBA commissioner David Stern had said the lack of a television deal in one of the league’s key international markets was a concern for the league. It was keen to build on basketball’s success at the London Olympic Games and secure a new agreement ahead of the January 17 regular season game between the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons at London’s O2 Arena.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, NBA commissioner David Stern said: “I would say that (no UK television deal) is not an acceptable answer for the UK because we need exposure to build that audience, so we’re struggling hard.”