By Eric Jackson
Sports Business Reporter
Overtime Elite has called on one of its backers to provide confident analysis, but not on fundraising or financial strategy. Instead, OTE investor and longtime NBA guard Isaiah Thomas will analyze the on-court performance of the league’s teenage basketball players.
The upstart pro basketball league has inked Thomas to a broadcasting talent deal in which he will call at least six games this season. His debut on the OTE broadcast team will come tonight on Amazon Prime. Thomas is scheduled to provide commentary for at least four games on the service, which recently signed an exclusive global streaming rights deal with the developmental league.
The two-time All-Star was one of several NBA players to be part of the $80 million Series C round for parent company Overtime last year. While’s it’s unclear how much of a stake Thomas owns, it’s a peculiar move to hire a stakeholder to provide commentary on the six-team league.
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OTE chief content officer Marc Kohn said in a prepared statement that the move would provide “credibility to the broadcast team,” but not everyone around the industry feels the same way.
“It’s not a great idea,” former president of Fox Sports Networks Bob Thompson said. “Even if there’s no apparent homerism or favoritism, it opens you up to the appearance, and you could be [negatively] perceived that way … It’s not something I would be in favor of.”
Glenn Adamo, former vice president of NFL Media Ops, NFL Films and Broadcasting, believes times have changed and perceived conflict of interest by broadcasters isn’t a taboo for audiences. He mentions that delivering the highest level of storytelling is more important.
“It used to be verboten,” Adamo said in a phone interview. “But if the person is honest and has integrity and might have some inside info that they can bring to the broadcast without giving away the shop, it makes the storytelling better … People are (also) more transparent about their backgrounds today.”
Thomas, a free agent, wasn’t mentioned as an investor in Friday’s press release, and it’s unclear if OTE or Amazon plan to disclose his stake. A spokesperson for Overtime didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the disclosure.
OTE, which features 16-to-20-year-old players from around the world, is nearly a month into its second season. Thomas’ appointment to the booth comes on the heels of OTE’s deal with Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), which included the media giant joining in the $100 million Series D funding round. Thomas most recently played for the Charlotte Hornets but is best remembered for his time on the Boston Celtics (2015-17).
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