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Inside The CW's sports push

Feb 26, 2024
Photo illustration of Dennis Miller surrounded by abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of The CW

The CW plans to be opportunistic about growing its sports business as the cable business shrinks, its president Dennis Miller tells Axios.

Why it matters: Sports programming has become an unexpected lynchpin in parent company Nexstar's quest to make the network profitable for the first time.

State of play: Sports has led the network's reinvention in the 18 months since Nexstar acquired it.

  • Much of The CW's sports programming airs on Saturdays in time slots that used to feature paid advertising and religious-themed programming. By 2025, The CW will have 500 hours of sports programming, according to the network.
  • It tees off on the second year of its deal with LIV Golf next month. The CW holds a one-year option for next year, though the future of the Saudi-backed league is uncertain.
  • "We had had an opportunistic situation with LIV, where they were looking for distribution and we were looking to kickstart with an announcement that we were willing to take chances and put on some quality professional golf," Miller says. "Once that happened, the phone started ringing."
  • Since the LIV deal, The CW has started airing ACC Conference football and basketball games, and the long-running NFL series "Inside the NFL." It has upcoming deals with the WWE and NASCAR.

What's next: Miller, like many other broadcast executives, sees an opportunity in local sports with the decline of the RSN business.

  • "We have ongoing conversations with individual teams and with all of the leagues about what makes sense going forward," Miller says. "There's still a delta between the very rich deals that were made in the RSN days and what is appropriate pricing in today's market."
  • Additionally, Miller wants to add sports that could air on Sundays and in other primetime slots.
  • "Maybe we can carve out some partnership deals with some of our other Big Four partners," Miller continued. "We wouldn't mind controlling our destiny and creating some sports events that are all CW-proprietary."

Zoom out: Miller is betting that broadcast television only becomes more important as the cable industry dwindles.

  • The number of pay-TV subscriptions continues to shrink. YouTube TV is now one of the top distributors. But broadcast television is not inextricably tied to the pay-TV bundle in the same way as cable.
  • "It's still this very lucrative, profitable marketing platform for all types of IP, and local news isn't going away. It's got a preferred status in the regulatory environment because of its importance for the local community," Miller says.
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