Breaking Down the Playoff Broadcast Schedule

After the question “How is the Thunder going to do against the Lakers?,” the next most-asked question I get is, “Where can I watch and listen?”

It's not always easy to figure out how to follow the games on TV, but there is a method to the apparent randomness, and logical reasons for the structure that’s been established. Let me start with the basic philosophy of the NBA: EVERY Playoff game is made available on National TV. The NBA also gives the team broadcasters the rights to televise first-round games with one exception. (I’ll get to that exception later)

To understand how it works, you need to know the current landscape of NBA Broadcasting. There are four national TV partners -- ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. In addition, each team has at least one partner and some have as many as three TV broadcast outlets.

Thunder Team Broadcast Partners:
  • Fox Sports Oklahoma: The regional cable telecaster for the Oklahoma City Thunder reaches 1.7 million homes throughout the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. First-round games* will appear on Fox Sports Oklahoma. These games are known by insiders as side-by-sides, since the broadcast is completely separate from the national telecast of the game.
  • KSBI – Thunder TV: Over-the-air partner of the Thunder that broadcasted a schedule of Wednesday night games during the 2009-10 season. No playoff games will appear on KSBI.

NBA National Broadcasters:
  • ABC: ABC telecasts high-profile games, mostly on the weekends and broadcasts the entire NBA Finals. ABC is the only national broadcaster with exclusive blackout rights. That means if they happen to televise a game in the first round that involves the Thunder, that game cannot be broadcast by Fox Sports Oklahoma. This is the case for Game 1 in the Thunder’s series with the Lakers, and the reason the game will not be seen on Fox Sports Oklahoma. This could very likely be the case if the series goes to a deciding Game 7.
  • ESPN: Televises games on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays throughout the regular season. ESPN has common ownership with ABC and does the production work for both outlets. This is why you’ll see the graphic “ESPN on ABC” during the ABC telecasts.
  • TNT: Longtime broadcast partner that primarily televises games on Thursdays during the regular season. TNT and ESPN broadcast the majority of playoff games.
  • NBA TV: The NBA-owned network launched in 1999 and televises almost 100 games during the regular season. Most of the regular-season games are simulcasts with the team’s regional broadcaster. In the playoffs, NBA TV will produce a handful of first- and second-round games.

The bottom line is that the national and regional/team TV partners pay a large rights fee to televise NBA games and The Playoffs drive a great deal of their overall revenue. With this in mind, maximum TV exposure for the league and each network helps create the channel soup.

Keeping the networks, teams and fans happy is not an easy task, but it pays the bills and fans have to pay close attention to identify where to watch the games, with the salvation being that all games are available.

For the Thunder's historic first playoff round, here is the TV Schedule (Central time):

Game 1: Sunday April 18 @ 2PM on ABC (OKC-KOCO 5, COX Ch 8, 708HD, Tulsa-KTUL 8, COX Ch 8, 708 HD)
Game 2: Tuesday April 20 @ 9:30PM on Fox Sports Oklahoma (COX 37, 722HD) and TNT
Game 3: Thursday, April 22 @ 8:30PM on Fox Sports Oklahoma and TNT
Game 4: Saturday, April 24 @ 8:30PM on Fox Sports Oklahoma and ESPN
Game 5: Tuesday, April 27 @ 9:30PM on Fox Sports Oklahoma and TNT
Game 6: Friday, April 30, Time and TV, TBD
Game 7: Sunday, May 2, Time and TV, TBD

Radio is much simpler. The team broadcaster is allowed to broadcast every game, all the way through to the Finals. In our case, just keep it tuned right where you had it all year, on the Sports Animal Radio Network (98.1 FM in OKC). Oh, by the way, I’m telling our fans to turn the sound down on the ABC games and listen to Matt Pinto and company. The sync might not be perfect, but you’ll hear the game with one of the league’s top broadcasters, connecting the hometown excitement with the network pictures.

Ken Adelson is the Senior Vice President and Executive Producer for the Thunder.