May 28, 2024 - Business

🏀 Zaslav's conundrum

Illustration of a basketball alternating between being coated in gold or bursting into flames.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

TNT last week inked a five-year deal with ESPN to sublicense select College Football Playoff games next season, giving its parent Warner Bros. Discovery an additional live sporting event to add to its roster in case it doesn't land crucial NBA rights in the next few days or weeks.

Why it matters: WBD would need to top NBC's bid of at least $2.5 billion per year to land the rights, per Sports Business Journal.

  • While the rights would serve as a critical boost to WBD's linear TV portfolio and its streaming ambitions, the pressure on the company to pay down $40 billion in debt makes that price tag harder to stomach.

By the numbers: NBA rights, which are being negotiated alongside a new WNBA package, are expected to double in value from what WBD currently pays on an annual basis.

  • ESPN and Amazon have already built out frameworks with the NBA for what their rights packages would include.
  • In total, the deals could be valued as high as $76 billion over 11 years.

Catch up quick: TNT, which has been airing the NBA since 1989, accounts for nearly one-third of WBD's total affiliate revenue, Axios Tim Baysinger reported.

  • While WBD CEO David Zaslav' famously said in 2022 that his company "didn't have to have the NBA," there's no doubt that without the rights, the company's cable business would be threatened.

What to watch: WBD still has other sports rights, such as NCAA March Madness games, MLB games and NHL matches.

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