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Nexstar bets on sports to boost The CW

Tim Baysinger
Jul 17, 2023
Illustration of a television with soccer balls, basketballs, hockey pucks and lacrosse balls jammed inside.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Nexstar version of The CW is banking heavily on live sports to be the 17-year-old broadcast network's bread and butter.

Why it matters: Buying The CW gave Nexstar a nationally distributed platform to goose its advertising sales. But the network has never turned a profit.

The latest: Last week, The CW signed its biggest sports deal so far when it secured rights to football and basketball from the Atlantic Coast Conference through 2027.

  • The deal gives The CW access to 50 games each season, which will air primarily on Saturdays.
  • The deal was made with Raycom Sports, which has a sublicense from ESPN, the ACC's primary TV rights holder.
  • "We are committed to making The CW a destination for live, appointment-viewing sporting events," said Dennis Miller, president of The CW Network, in a statement announcing the deal.

The big picture: When Nexstar bought The CW last year, it made profitability its main priority.

  • After taking over, Nexstar slashed The CW's scripted programming lineup, and numerous top executives like former chairman Mark Pedowitz were shown the exit.
  • The network now relies more on cheaper, acquired programming from international territories.
  • The CW signed its first rights deal with the Saudi-backed LIV golf earlier this year, which didn't cost a fee but rather was an ad sales revenue share. The potential PGA Tour-LIV Golf tie-up leaves that deal up in the air, which has a second year on it.

Be smart: Nexstar's strategy is very different from The CW's old ownership, when it was a joint venture between Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount.

  • Those two companies mostly used it to air new shows aimed at younger audiences who didn't necessarily watch broadcast TV.

What's next: The Pac-12 is still looking to secure its next media rights deal after its current deal with ESPN expires next July, which coincides with the exits of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten.

  • The CW and fellow national broadcaster Ion are two networks whose names have frequently been mentioned as potential Pac-12 homes.
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