• Loading stock data...
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO’s About-Face on Rights: ‘We Love the NBA’

  • After saying WBD doesn’t ‘have to have the NBA,’ Zaslav now calls the league ‘great.’
  • As rights talks are heating up, the TNT parent is facing immense pressure to keep its NBA relationship.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Facing immense pressure to hold on to the company’s NBA rights, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is now conveying a different tone regarding the league. 

In November 2022, Zaslav stunned both the sports world and investor community by proclaiming, “We don’t have to have the NBA.” Fast-forward roughly 18 months, and Zaslav’s discussion of the league is definitely not the same. 

“We continue to be in constructive negotiations with the NBA,” Zaslav said Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in California. “It’s a great league. The TNT team does a terrific job. And we love the NBA.”

There’s obviously plenty of subtext in what Zaslav was saying before, and still is now. Back in 2022, the NBA rights negotiations for the next term beginning in ’25 had yet to fully begin. Zaslav, meanwhile, would hardly be the first network executive to try to tamp down public expectations of a future rights deal, and he said then that WBD’s approach to the NBA would need to be “very disciplined” and a “deal for the future.”

Much has changed, however, since then. An exclusive negotiation period for both WBD and fellow incumbent rights holder ESPN has now expired, and recent reports point to Comcast’s NBC Sports making an aggressive effort to acquire an NBA rights package, along with separate efforts by ESPN as well as online retail and streaming giant Amazon.

WBD does have matching rights within its current NBA deal, providing a level of protection in these negotiations. But the possibility of the company losing its relationship with the league after 40 years has already seeped into rising questions about the future of TNT’s Inside the NBA and the status of star broadcaster Charles Barkley. WBD’s stock, meanwhile, has lost nearly one-third of its value so far this year, with a drop of nearly 10% last week driven in part by reports the network could lose the NBA rights. 

‘A Big Deal’

Zaslav also touted the power of sports, and the NBA particularly, as a uniting force in society, not unlike the bullish forecast for the league offered Tuesday by Disney CEO Bob Iger. 

“Sports [are] a big deal because … it’s a shared experience,” Zaslav said. “We’re all watching the [playoff game between] the Knicks and the Pacers tonight. We’re all watching the Super Bowl together. [Sports] reminds us that we have so much more in common than what differentiates us.”

The subject of the NBA rights is almost certain to arise when WBD releases quarterly earnings Thursday.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

The NBA’s Final Four May Not Be Exactly What the League Envisioned

This final four will need to lean on its own unique drama to draw big audiences.

Sports World’s Ground Zero: Dallas to Host NBA and NHL Conference Finals

American Airlines Center is the first arena to host NHL, NBA conference finals games in the same season since 2003.

Historic Premier League Season Closes As U.S. Influence Expands

Man City can expect to receive roughly $79 million from the EPL’s system of merit payments.

WNBA’s Boom Time: Record Growth, Clark’s Debut, a Controversial Deal

League attendance is up by nearly a third, while the Liberty set a single-game ticketing record.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Bare Knuckle Fighting Comes Out of the Shadows


Featured Today


‘This Is Semi-Pro’: Inside One Arena Football League Team’s Collapse

The collapse of the Georgia Force, as told by the players who lived it.
Michael Block signs autographs on the 18th hole during day three of practice for the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
May 19, 2024

‘I Prefer It This Way’: How Life Works for PGA Club Pros

Here’s how life works for the qualifiers at golf’s second major.
February 5, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; The grounds of the Capitol Building empty out following the conclusion of President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech on February 5, 2019.
May 18, 2024

‘A Breathtaking Lobbying Campaign’: The NCAA’s Sophisticated Effort to Save Amateurism

Inside the carefully coordinated, multimillion-dollar operation to end the athletes’ rights era.
May 14, 2024

The WNBA Was Forged in Houston. Why Won’t It Go Back There?

Houston’s a perfect fit for expansion. The league isn’t considering it yet.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Live Nation
Multiple - USA Careers
Multiple - USA Careers
Multiple - USA Careers

DSG’s Path to Revival Faces Major Pushback from MLB, NBA, and NHL

Three major pro leagues raise further concerns about the bankrupt Bally Sports parent.
May 16, 2024

Amazon’s Thursday Night Fever: Banking on Caitlin Clark’s Impact

Clark makes her home debut for the Indiana Fever on Thursday night.
May 16, 2024

NFL’s Christmas Shake-Up: Netflix and Amazon Will Take It Over in ’25

This is the new-age NFL, where anything goes, if the price is right.

Major League Rugby’s Vision for American Rugby

How Major League Rugby is leading the Rugby renaissance in the U.S.
May 15, 2024

NFL’s Schedule Points to Network Strategies: Chiefs Lead, Texans Rise

The two-time defending champions are a fixture across many of the league’s tentpole events.
May 15, 2024

Caitlin Clark Debuts With WNBA’s Most-Watched Game in Decades

The game averaged 2.12 million viewers, the WNBA’s highest since 2001.
May 15, 2024

MLB Slams Bally Sports Parent, Calls Blackout of Several Teams ‘Harmful’

The league blasts the bankrupt Bally Sports parent in a new court filing.
May 15, 2024

NFL Signs Three-Year Christmas Day Deal With Netflix

The streamer will show two holiday games in 2024 and one apiece in ’25 and ’26.