NBA commissioner David Stern Monday night canceled the first two weeks of the 2011-12 regular season as the owners and players association were unable to reach a new labor deal and end the lockout that tipped off July 1.
The labor dispute -- among other issues, the parties disagree about how to split $4 billion in annual basketball-related income, as well as management's push for a hard salary cap -- leaves national carriers TNT and ESPN and league-owned NBA TV without key early-season action and looking to find substitute programming.
The national networks reportedly must pay rights fee to the league, with the funds distributed to the clubs. However, those monies would be rebated as games are missed.
On Monday night, ESPN issued the following statement: "Like all NBA fans, we're disappointed the season will not start on time. We remain hopeful this will get resolved quickly."
Relative to programming plans, the worldwide leader noted that it has "a contingency plan in place consisting mostly of college football and basketball games in November."
Officials at Turner, which manages and operates NBA TV, put out their own statement:
"Like NBA fans around the country our hope is that a favorable resolution is reached for both sides. We believe in the strength of the NBA brand and hope for an outcome that preserves as much of the 2011-12 season as possible."
TNT's substitute programming game plan is expected to reflect its primetime lineup of acquired and original video product.
Regional sports networks will also be forced to scurry to find replacement fare.
"The gap is so significant that we just can't bridge it at this time," said Stern. He told the Associated Press it was doubtful a full 82-game season can be played. Back in 1998-99, a labor dispute truncated the campaign to a 50-game slate.
The NBA air balled its entire preseason a week ago.
Coming off an exciting campaign that crowned the Dallas Mavericks champions over the controversial Miami Heat, the NBA national carriers enjoyed a strong Nielsen campaign, setting ratings marks in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Had the season tipped off on time, TNT, which was scheduled to air a pair of preseason games, would have opened the season with a doubleheader Nov. 1 showcasing Mark Cuban's Mavericks hosting the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Overall, TNT was scheduled to air 52 games in primetime during its 28th season on NBA basketball coverage, with 44 being part of its Thursday night exclusive doubleheaders.
For its part, ESPN was supposed to start its NBA coverage with a Nov. 2 doubleheader featuring the Heat versus the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors against the Lakers.
All told, ESPN's multiplatform coverage of the 2011-12 NBA regular season was scheduled to include 75 telecasts, with broadcast partner ABC airing an additional 15 games.
Now, nobody is going to televise or watch any NBA games at least through Nov. 14.
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