Video Streamers Should Increase NBA Content, With or Without Live Games

The NBA is the league Gen Zers uniquely demand more of on digital media platforms, writes media & entertainment analyst Kevin Tran
Graphic conveying a TV with streaming services
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Ashley Berry
August 22, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • The NBA is the last major sports league set to renegotiate its broadcast rights in the coming years.

  • Morning Consult data shows 40% of Gen Z adults have a favorite player in the NBA, a figure higher than that for all other major leagues and sports; no other generation favors NBA players over other athletes from other leagues.

  • This should spur video streaming platforms to develop scripted and unscripted fare based on the league if they’re unable to justify the cost of NBA broadcast rights.  

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The NBA seems ready to help shake up the way consumers access live sports. Its streaming agreement with Diamond Sports Group could end prematurely if the regional sports network owner is unable to secure certain carriage renewals in the coming months. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney are set to renegotiate their linear TV deals with the NBA in March 2024. Since no NBA media rights deal runs beyond 2025, the league is uniquely positioned to soon lean more on exclusive streaming deals in its quest to triple its total TV rights value to more than $70 billion. 

That price tag may seem too rich for the current economic reality, but media companies should look to prioritize NBA content regardless of their ability to broadcast live games. Morning Consult data shows that Gen Z adults, despite being less interested in sports overall than older consumers, are more likely to say they have a favorite player in the NBA than in any other major sports league. This opens up opportunities for video streamers to commission more NBA-related scripted and unscripted content — à la “Shooting Stars” and “Underrated” — to capitalize on the league’s youth appeal without getting locked into pricey long-term agreements. 

Among major sports leagues, the NBA clearly has standout Gen Z appeal  

Regardless of Gen Z’s attitudes toward sports overall, it’s still worthwhile to consider which leagues appeal to them, as executives are already investing more into live content on streaming. The NBA deserves prominence in this push: Morning Consult has previously covered how more than a quarter of Gen Z adults (27%) want more access to live NBA broadcasts in their existing video streaming subscriptions — a figure higher than that for any other league.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”

This helps explain why the NBA is commanding such rich deal values, but streamers can more frugally capitalize on the league’s Gen Z popularity through nonlive content centered around the league’s players. In July, 40% of Gen Z adults said they had a favorite player in the NBA, notably higher than the shares that said the same about other major leagues like the NFL and MLB (both 32%). This strong preference for NBA athletes wasn’t found among the general public or any other generation.

The NBA Is Most Likely to Have Gen Z’s Favorite Athletes

Shares of U.S. adults who said they have a favorite athlete in the following leagues or sports:
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted July 29-30, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

NBA player-driven docuseries (“The Last Dance”) and movies (“Air”) have already proved their ability to penetrate the zeitgeist. And we’re likely to see an uptick in these types of TV series and films as more attention gets placed on the NBA’s next rights deal cycle and the league’s potential to win over younger consumers. 

After all, 38% of Gen Z adults said they are interested in seeing unscripted sports docuseries, while 43% said they are interested in scripted sports films. These shares aren’t too far from those among all U.S. adults (32% for docuseries and 40% for scripted films) — which is promising, considering Gen Zers’ lower engagement with sports, and suggests sports-related content could be an effective tool for minting young sports fans.  

Beyond film and TV, the popularity of NBA players among Gen Zers should be attractive for its ability to open up partnerships for digital audio with media conglomerates like Comcast or tech giants like Apple. For example, NBCUniversal could structure an agreement to promote the existing podcasts of stars like Paul George during its broadcasts of live games in exchange for those players using their social media reach to promote NBA games on Peacock. 

This strategy seems particularly useful to tech giants, which have the power to fast-track the success of new podcasts launched by NBA stars like Steph Curry (who tied with LeBron James as Gen Z’s favorite athlete). A company like Apple or Amazon could heavily promote new NBA star-driven podcasts on Apple Podcasts or Amazon Music.

Why TikTok must remain a priority in social distribution strategies for sports content

The way to maximize ownership of NBA content — live games or not — is through heavy promotion on TikTok. Our previous analysis shows that TikTok is a uniquely Gen Z platform for hard news discovery, and the same can be said for sports news.

The share of Gen Z adults who said TikTok is their favorite social media platform for sports news and highlights was 11 percentage points higher than the shares among millennials and the general population. Instagram and YouTube are favored by sizable shares of Gen Z adults, too, but that’s less notable because many older generations also use these two platforms for sports news. This reinforces why TikTok is so valuable as an audience diversification tool. 

For Sports Updates, Gen Z Stands Out for Its TikTok Preference

Shares of U.S. adults who said each of the following is their preferred social platform for sports news and highlights:
Morning Consult Logo
Platforms favored for sports news by 1% or fewer of all U.S. adults not shown; results for “Another place” and “I do not read sports news” also not shown.
Survey conducted July 29-30, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Sports leagues are already active on TikTok, and Morning Consult data shows that young sports fans rely heavily on it for news, despite growing domestic momentum in 2023 to ban the ByteDance-owned app. 

The potential payoff for focusing on TikTok for sports content is twofold. First, in the near term, media companies and sports leagues have the opportunity to reach Gen Zers who could be converted into sports fans — especially those who are cooling on X (formerly Twitter) and seeking digital news alternatives. Second, in the long term, cultivating a strong TikTok presence may end up translating to more e-commerce success domestically. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has recently assumed more oversight of e-commerce initiatives, indicating the increased emphasis the company is placing on facilitating digital sales.

A headshot photograph of Kevin Tran
Kevin Tran
Senior Media & Entertainment Analyst

Kevin Tran previously worked at Morning Consult as the senior media & entertainment analyst.

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