PHOENIX – The days of having to attend college in order to play in the NBA have long passed. Recent high draft picks have come from overseas, including Lamelo Ball for the Charlotte Hornets and Killian Hayes for the Detroit Pistons. Others, like Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, emerged from the NBA G League Ignite team.
Now, the Overtime Elite league, which includes Arizona’s Hillcrest Prep, plans to be the next ticket for top high school talent to earn financial compensation while training for the NBA. Unlike other feeder leagues, OTE secured a deal for live programming that satisfies the need of exposure for its rising stars.
OTE and Amazon Prime reached a partnership in November, allowing Prime Video to stream 20 live games each season for the next three years.
“I can’t even put into words how big that is for us and our players, and I know they’re all excited about it,” said Damien Wilkins, Overtime Elite’s Head of Basketball.
The league is made up of six teams. Three are created by Overtime – the City Reapers, Cold Hearts and YNG Dreamerz – while the other three are preparatory teams: the Word of God Holy Rams, Our Savior Lutheran Falcons and Arizona’s Hillcrest Prep Bruins.
Neither Hillcrest Prep nor Overtime released the financial aspects of the deal. However, Hillcrest Prep co-founder Nick Weaver said the team is happy with the agreement.
“All I can say is OTE has done an amazing job taking care of us,” Weaver said.
Each “non-scholarship” player in the OTE receives an annual salary of at least $100,000. While Hillcrest Prep players don’t receive payment in order to maintain college eligibility, the league still provides its players opportunities to compete against premier talent in front of college and NBA scouts.
“This is the only amateur league in the country that NBA scouts can attend, and at our game the other night there were 30 NBA teams present,” Weaver said.
Hillcrest Prep has already seen an increase of 10,000 followers on the team’s Instagram page due to the exposure from the Amazon deal, Weaver said. He added that multiple players and coaches have reached out to him with questions about playing opportunities in the OTE.
“We’ve already been hit up probably by 15 to 20 kids that want to transfer here,” Weaver said. “As far as coaches, I’ve had probably 20 to 25 schools reach out to us to try to get in touch with Overtime to join the league.”
Pay TV subscriptions have fallen in U.S. households since 2016. Less than half of households will have a cable subscription by the end of 2023, according to a study by eMarketer.
However, this loss in cable television has not impacted the price of TV rights. Broadcasting and streaming services are projected to pay $15.4 billion to air the five major U.S. sports leagues in 2023, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
“You don’t just have to come to the games or watch on YouTube for people to see us,” Wilkins said. “To be a part of that Amazon Prime stream, that gives us a whole new wave of audience that gets to see our players. Our league gets highlighted so hopefully we continue to put out a great product.”
For Amazon, which already owns streaming rights for Thursday Night Football, the WNBA, soccer and tennis, adding OTE demonstrates its support of the growing trend of being able to stream sports, said Marie Donoghue, vice president of global sports video at Amazon.
“Like Overtime, we hold a mutual commitment to serving the next generation of sports fans, and we are proud to join Overtime on their journey as the league continues to see tremendous growth,” Donoghue said in a press release.
The first season of any league aims to carve a footprint in the market, letting people know it exists. Now, it’s about getting people to care. For a league in its second season, having a broadcast deal is a huge step toward longevity. However, OTE is not finished establishing itself as a legit path for hopeful NBA stars.
“I think we’re at the tip of the iceberg here, and I think it’s about to take off,” Weaver said.