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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

French Open Deal Marks New Era for TNT Sports. Will It Include the NBA?

  • A 10-year rights deal for the French Open immediately becomes the longest in Warner Bros. Discovery’s portfolio.
  • There’s still no news on NBA rights, but ESPN makes a playful push to land Charles Barkley.
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Warner Bros. Discovery, like any other media company, cannot fully project the long-term state of the industry, or even its own business, amid an accelerating state of disruption. But the TNT Sports parent has nonetheless made another big bet on the future.

WBD has completed a 10-year rights deal with the French Open to carry the tennis major starting next year and through 2034. Worth about $650 million over the full term, according to industry sources, the agreement immediately vaults to a position as TNT Sports’ longest rights deal, surpassing the current end in ’32 of its shared March Madness rights with CBS Sports and a new NASCAR pact expiring in ’31. 

The French Open agreement arrives directly in the midst of a particularly fragile time for WBD. The company is trying to preserve an NBA media-rights relationship that has lasted four decades, but it could now be on the outside looking in against rival bids from ESPN, NBC Sports, and Amazon. 

Regardless of the outcome of the basketball situation, though, WBD executives said the French Open deal represents another important move to secure top-tier content. It’s also part of ongoing transformation across the company’s entire rights portfolio also including a recent agreement to sublicense some College Football Playoff games from ESPN.

Changing Media Landscape

Though it’s essentially impossible to know what the cable and streaming businesses will look like by the mid-2030s, WBD executives touted their array of cable channels, Max streaming service, Bleacher Report, and new participation in Venu Sports with ESPN and Fox as key tools to show coverage from the French Open and their other sports rights.

“This one just felt right. We look for properties and events where we can really bring in our own DNA, our own brand of storytelling, and the French Open and Roland-Garros is definitely that,” Luis Silberwasser, TNT Sports chairman and CEO, tells Front Office Sports. “We are certainly aware of the challenges of the cable business, but we also continue to be eager to find as many ways as possible to distribute our content.”

The French Open in some respects is seen as the weakest of tennis’s four majors. Competing in a particularly crowded part of the sports calendar in the U.S. against the heart of the NBA and NHL playoffs, the tournament also foregoes some of the power and speed of tennis on hard courts and grass in favor of the longer volleys and extended matches of clay. But Silberwasser says he intends to lean directly into all of that in TNT Sports’ coverage.

“Clay is a central character in this story. Paris is a central character in this story,” Silberwasser says. “It’s a very unique event, with a particular set of branding characteristics, and we’ll absolutely feature that.”

WBD will also leverage Eurosport, its European outlet that has covered the tournament since 1989, in building out its French Open coverage for the U.S.

No News on NBA

Silberwasser declined to comment on the ongoing NBA media-rights negotiations. That situation has largely remained the same in recent weeks, though, with league officials aiming to bring an end to the negotiations soon, and conversations continuing about the possibility of a fourth package being created that would allow TNT to remain in business with the league. 

During the ongoing uncertainty, though, tension and unease continue. TNT Sports analyst Charles Barkley made a guest appearance Monday during ESPN’s coverage of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, and Steve Levy jokingly introduced the Basketball Hall of Famer as “the newest member of ESPN’s NBA coverage?”

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