AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA and ABC have big Saturday night plans.
When Cleveland hosts Chicago this weekend, it marks the debut of a new prime-time schedule, packed with marquee matchups right between two days where ESPN already had nationally televised games.
“It really lets us own the weekend with the NBA,” said Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president of programming.
Golden State and San Antonio make multiple appearances on the eight-game schedule — once against each other — and Oklahoma City has games scheduled against both those Western Conference powers.
“We’re excited about the league and the story lines and the players,” analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and the games they have scheduled appear to be really good.”
Van Gundy, Mike Breen and Mark Jackson, ABC’s NBA Finals team, will work the “Saturday Primetime” games, which will follow a pregame studio show.
The franchise was created as ABC looked to expand its NBA package along the lines of its Saturday night college football coverage. ESPN already shows Friday night games and ABC has Sunday afternoon contests in the second half of the season, but Saturday was the place it wanted to go.
“Obviously the times of year are very complementary to each other and the NBA is the perfect sport for prime time, and it filled out the weekend for us,” Sobieski said. “It really lets us own the weekend with the NBA.”
Created in partnership with the NBA, the schedule was created by taking some of the games that made up ABC’s Sunday doubleheaders and shifting them to Saturdays. Counting ESPN’s Wednesday coverage and TNT’s Thursday doubleheaders, it sets up five straight days of nationally televised games — but cable won’t be necessary to watch the Saturday ones.
“Through ESPN’s ongoing commitment to the NBA, fans now have the opportunity to watch marquee games on broadcast television on Saturday night — an ideal time for live sports,” NBA President and executive producer of content Danny Meiseles said.
ESPN already shows college basketball on Saturday nights, but Sobieski said there’s no concerns about the company competing against itself.
“There’s plenty of space for a vibrant NBA package on ABC and a vibrant college basketball on ESPN on these nights,” she said, “and quite honestly it’s a great opportunity to cross-pollinate fans as they’re moving around the dial.”
Sobieski said discussions on the Saturday package began after the renewal of the national TV deals in 2014 and the sides worked together on drafting the schedule. Plans so far are only for the eight games this season, but Sobieski believes the Saturday schedule could be part of the future.
“Certainly we expect that this is going to be a successful franchise for us,” she said.