It has been a decade since ABC officially made Saturday night college football part of its prime-time schedule, the start of a successful trend toward sports assuming control of a TV night that entertainment divisions long ago abandoned.
The latest to make the leap is another ESPN property, the NBA, which will play eight games on ABC on Saturday nights, starting this weekend with the Bulls visiting the Cavaliers.
It will be the first prime-time weekend series of NBA games on a broadcast network, and the league has invested in helping make it special with an A-list schedule.
Of the eight games scattered between now and April 9, the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and Bulls are featured three times each and the Thunder twice.
“I think it’s really cool to have it in prime time, but to me the key of the whole thing is: Look at the games,” said play-by-play man Mike Breen, who will call games with the rest of ESPN’s No. 1 announcing crew, featuring analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.
“The schedule is fantastic . . . That’s what makes it fun. They’re the best teams. They’re the most entertaining teams, probably the top five to 10 of the most dynamic players. That’s the important thing. I can’t wait for the matchups, whether they play it Tuesday at 9 o’clock in the morning or Saturday prime time.”
Studio analyst Jalen Rose said he would like to see the NBA do what the NFL has done over the years in colonizing more and more nights of the week.
“For us to own Christmas like we have and now expand to Saturday,” he said, “I really appreciate now that we have Friday, Saturday and Sunday night basketball.” (Those other nights are on cable TV, not broadcast.)
There was a time the NBA could not muster enough interest to justify showing NBA Finals games live in prime time; those days are long gone. The NBA has been a Sunday afternoon staple on ABC for years. Now this.
“After [Michael] Jordan left the NBA had that little downtime,” Breen said, “but where the league is at this point, where you have these compelling, star players and a bunch of teams that it’s all about winning again, I just think the interest in the league is so high right now that you can do it.”
Asked what the Saturday night ABC slate says about the state of the NBA, Van Gundy said, “It talks to the interest in the NBA. No matter what you broadcast, if it’s not what the consumer wants they’re not going to watch.
“We feel very strongly that it will be well-viewed and we’re excited about the league and the story lines and players. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. And the games they have scheduled appear to be really good.”