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Why Your NBA Game is Blacked Out

Written by Derek Fleming

Can’t get your NBA game on and aren’t sure why? In this post, we will give hoops fans a simple rundown of the NBA blackout policy, the games it applies to, and how to get your game on despite blackouts (when possible).

  • Most NBA blackouts happen to enforce regional TV rights. For example, Knicks games that air on NBA League Pass for out-of-market fans, are blacked out in the NY area because MSG has the rights to the local broadcast.
  • Conversely, when a national outlet has exclusive rights to an NBA game, as with some ESPN and ABC games, the local regional sports network is blacked out.

Reports link the NBA with a lucrative new TV deal, worth as much as 8 billion annually, that will take effect in 2025. The current 9 year TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, has been valued at 24 billion dollars. To enforce lucrative TV contracts, the NBA, as with other professional sports leagues, enforces blackout rules.

This means that televised games, both domestic and international, will continue to be a huge part of the NBA’s business model for the foreseeable future. However, the NBA’s emphasis on TV does not mean that it’s always easy for basketball fans to watch NBA games.

Because of a conglomeration of regional sports networks (“RSN’s”), which are local cable channels with exclusive rights to televise NBA games in their market, the TV landscape for NBA fans can be confusing, especially when it comes to the League’s blackout policy.

In this post, I will walk NBA fans through the blackout rules to offer a clearer picture of what games they can and cannot watch in their respective markets. There is a lot of inaccurate / incomplete information online about the NBA’s policy, so hopefully this post helps to clear things up.

The NBA Blackout rules primarily apply to NBA League Pass and NBA TV

The simplest NBA blackout rule is this: if you want to watch your local NBA team, and you live in the same TV market as that team, you cannot watch those games via NBA League Pass or NBA TV because your local RSN has the exclusive rights.

For example, a fan living in Los Angeles, and wanting to watch the Lakers, cannot subscribe to NBA League Pass to do so.


Because, in the LA Market, Spectrum SportsNet has the exclusive rights to broadcast the Lakers. Lakers fans who subscribe to NBA League Pass will have the Lakers games blacked out. The same scenario holds when, for example, ESPN is broadcasting an NBA game that also appears on a local RSN. For fans in the local market, ESPN’s broadcast will be blacked out.

The NBA maintains a page on its website that allows fans to enter their zip code to see which games are blacked out in their market.

When I entered 90210 (a famous Los Angeles zip code) I received the message below.

The NBA offers blackout information tailored to a fan’s zip code.

As you can see from the screenshot above, NBA League Pass cannot broadcast Lakers games in the LA Market, because the rights to those games have already been assigned elsewhere contractually. As such, the games are blacked out so as not to infringe on these contracts. In the case of the Lakers, the team signed a 20 year TV deal with Time Warner Cable in 2011 which gives Spectrum SportsNet the exclusive right to all Lakers games that aren’t slated for a national TV only audience.

Were NBA League Pass subscribers able to circumvent this agreement, the Time Warner deal, valued at 3 billion dollars would be undermined. As such, the blackouts stand in place as gatekeepers to protect these massive, and lucrative, TV contracts.

If you want to watch most Lakers games, and you live in sunny LA, Spectrum SportsNet is the only game in town, and neither NBA League Pass or NBA TV access will change this.

What about nationally televised games?

Blackouts for nationally televised NBA games are determined by whether the national TV broadcast has exclusive or merely simultaneous rights.

There are a number of NBA games that are broadcast nationally throughout the season on ABC, ESPN, and TNT. For example, the Lakers appear on national TV more than any other team.

NBA games that appear exclusively on national TV, again to enforce contracts, are also blacked out on NBA League Pass and NBA TV, but local fans can watch these games without an RSN subscription. For example, the NBA Finals appear exclusively on ABC, which means NBA League Pass and NBA TV will be blacked out as the NBA’s two best teams compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

However, some nationally televised games are not broadcast with exclusive TV rights, and this is key for NBA fans to understand. For example, some Knicks games air on MSG network and ESPN, but fans in the NY metro cannot watch on ESPN, and can only see games on MSG, as blackouts protect lucrative TV deals.

In these cases, the national TV broadcast will be blacked out in favor of the local RSN, which carries the rights to that game.

NBA TV games are blacked out on League Pass

Another NBA blackout rule to keep in mind: the 100+ games broadcast on NBA TV each season will be blacked out on League Pass for out-of-market NBA fans.

In this scenario, the League Pass subscriber could turn to a live TV streaming provider, like Fubo TV, which carries NBA TV to “close the gap” in their NBA streaming coverage. DirecTV Stream is another live TV streaming service that carries NBA TV.

If you are an in-market fan, the blackout rules wouldn’t apply to NBA TV games, they would still be carried on your local RSN.

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