The NBA is diversifying its subscription product, NBA League Pass, to offer more lower-cost pricing options outside its core $200 package.
Starting this year, it let fans pay $1.99 just to watch the fourth quarter of a game. At some point likely this season, fans will also be able to pay for full access to League Pass, which lets them check in on any game in progress, in 10-minute increments (the price of that product is still being worked out).
Those options join a single game package the league launched in 2015 and monthly pricing tiers it debuted last season, as part of a bid to convert more of its fans into direct consumers. Earlier this year, the NBA said its League Pass subscriber base leaped 63 percent year over year, though it did not share hard numbers or say what kinds of subscriptions those customers purchased.
“Providing choice is something that’s worked well,” said Mike Allen, svp of digital products and emerging technology at the NBA. “We have a very active community on social media who push us on access.”
NBA League Pass first appeared as a cable television product in 1995, and the league has tinkered with the product since its launch. In 2015, it unveiled Team Pass, which gives customers access to one out-of-market team’s games for $120 per season, as well as a premium version of League Pass, which cuts out advertising and costs $250 per season. It also debuted several a la carte options, including the chance to watch a single game.
The recent focus has been on allowing fans to buy in at smaller price points. Allen said that there was strong demand for shorter windows of access among fans interviewed in person and in social chatter among fans.
To market the new plans, the NBA will focus on mobile marketing, particularly Twitter and push notifications sent from its mobile app, to drive people to tune in to games in progress. If Rockets forward James Harden is flopping and snaking his way to a 50-point game, for example, the NBA will target Twitter ads to fans offering them the chance to tune in as it’s happening, at a reduced price.
These smaller packages are designed to get people used to the idea of paying to watch NBA games and to upsell them to pricier packages later.
As media consumption has continued to migrate into digital channels, sports leagues have followed suit, while trying to avoid cannibalizing the broadcast media rights deals that are their lifeblood. Spanish football league La Liga recently launched a streaming video-on-demand product that gives customers unlimited access to its lower-tier matches. American leagues including Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have sold digital subscription products for years as well. NBA’s tighter windows set it apart.
“They offer what is now the standard streaming options like an all-teams option, single-team option, annual versus monthly options and single game — which MLB Advanced Media and NHL.tv are doing as well — but they are also pushing the envelope,” said Larry Mann, evp of media and business development at the agency Revolution Sports. “The ratings, advertising and sponsorship implications are obviously impacted positively for the league by adding that supplemental audience.”
While most of the NBA’s revenue comes from its broadcast television rights, digital consumer revenue is growing. The NBA generated more than $11 million revenue with purchases of subscriptions, game tickets and fan merchandise on its mobile app between October 2017 and September 2018, according to Apptopia. During the first two months of the 2017-18 NBA season, mobile app revenues increased more than 40 percent, year over year, to $3.2 million, per Apptopia. Those totals exclude the 30 percent share that Apple’s App Store and Google Play take from transactions that occur on their platforms.
Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the years when the NBA debuted its monthly pricing and single game tiers.