NBC could buy back rights to iconic theme ‘Roundball Rock’ if it airs NBA games again, composer says

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NBC could buy back rights to iconic theme ‘Roundball Rock’ if it airs NBA games again, composer says

Michael Jordan #23 and Scottie Pippen #33

Nathaniel S. Butler

In the pantheon of theme songs for TV sports, “Roundball Rock,” John Tesh’s anthem that accompanied National Basketball Association games on NBC until 2002, is arguably the greatest.

If NBCUniversal wins the rights to air the NBA again, it would have a chance to bring back the iconic tune, the composer told CNBC in an email.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal has made an offer that averages $2.5 billion per year to once again acquire NBA rights after losing them 22 years ago to Disney, according to people familiar with the matter. The Wall Street Journal first reported the details of NBC’s bid.

The NBA wants three media partners this time around, and is close to deals with both Disney and Amazon for two of the packages. The third one will likely go to Warner Bros. Discovery or NBCUniversal, but not both, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.

Warner Bros. Discovery continues to be in talks with the league to keep the rights. Still, NBCUniversal’s offer more than doubles the $1.2 billion that Warner Bros. Discovery currently pays. That may be too pricey for Warner Bros. Discovery, whose market capitalization of $18 billion is dwarfed by Comcast‘s $150 billion.

Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav has preached a message of financial discipline since taking over the company, including by slashing jobs and cutting spending on content, to reduce debt and boost free cash flow. He’s said he’s not interested in being in the “rental business,” as is the nature of licensing sports rights, though he has also expressed optimism about retaining NBA rights.

Spokespeople for Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC and the NBA declined to comment.

The rights to ‘Roundball’

Nostalgic NBA fans associate “Roundball Rock” with “The NBA on NBC” and an era defined by Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls’ dominance and the voices of Bob Costas and Marv Albert. USA Today voted it No. 1 in a 2017 ranking of “The 25 greatest sports TV themes.” The Ringer published an oral history article about its origin, and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” did an entire sketch about it.

The song has not heralded the start of an NBA game since 2002, when NBC broadcast its last league contest. Fox Sports acquired the rights to the theme to use for college basketball for the 2018-19 season, but a generation of fans still associate the tune with NBC.

If NBC Sports wins the rights, it’s free to once again license “Roundball Rock” from Tesh, who owns the song, the composer said in an e-mail.

TV Personality John Tesh visits Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” at Universal Studios Hollywood on March 06, 2020 in Universal City, California.

Paul Archuleta | Getty Images

Fox’s deal for “Roundball Rock” doesn’t preclude any media company from using the song for NBA games, Tesh said.

Media companies typically buy the rights to the song in three-year increments, Tesh said. He declined to say how much he is paid because the contracts include non-disclosure agreements, but Tesh noted he’s also compensated with royalties based on the number of times it gets played. The Ringer reported in 2020 that Tesh’s jingle aired an estimated 12,000 times during the 1990-2002 era on “NBA on NBC.”

“It’s funny how people fight for the song,” Tesh said. “In 1990, it was just another theme. Now the internet is filled with people playing the song on Ukulele, Casios and teaching it on guitar. We still play the song at every concert and show the YouTube videos of these people.”

If the NBA airs on NBC again, it would start in the 2025-26 season. And rest assured, fans: “Roundball Rock” is available.

— CNBC’s Lillian Rizzo contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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