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Warner Bros Discovery CEO: We don’t need the NBA

Media giant won’t break bank to keep basketball league and says any deal should include streaming.

16 November 2022 Steve McCaskill
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  • Turner has broadcast the NBA for nearly three decades
  • NBA’s rights deals end in 2025
  • League hopes to treble value to US$75bn

Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) chief executive David Zaslav says the media giant doesn’t necessarily need the rights to the National Basketball Association (NBA) as it contends with rising content costs and a sluggish advertising market.

Professional basketball has been a cornerstone of Turner Sports’ programming for nearly 30 years, with its current NBA deal set to expire at the end of the 2024/25 season.

WBD is keen to extend and expand its relationship to include not just live matches for TNT, but also for a streaming platform that will combine with HBO Max and Discovery+.

However, speaking at an investment conference, Zaslav said it would not look to secure the rights at any cost and would show restraint when bidding.

“We don’t have to have the NBA,” Zaslav said. The 62-year-old added that he was confident the company’s portfolio of sporting content, which includes the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and international fixtures for the US men’s and women’s international soccer teams, would still be attractive to subscribers.

WBD was formed through a US$40.4 billion merger earlier this year, however its financial results since the completion of that transaction have been disappointing. Macroeconomic challenges have played their part but Zaslav, who was previously chief executive at Discovery, says the situation with some of the assets at the combined company were “worse than we thought”.

The company has implemented cost-cutting measures, including the loss of more than 1,000 jobs across all divisions. WBD Sports is believed to have reduced its workforce by 10 per cent with 70 redundancies, according to Sports Business Journal (SBJ).

SportsPro says…

Zaslav’s comments can be interpreted as the first public move in a rights negotiation that will likely dominate the US sports media conversation for the foreseeable future.

Having seen the National Football League (NFL) achieve US$110 billion over ten years, the NBA hopes it can capitalise on rising prices and intense competition for sports content in its next rights cycle.

With the NFL, NHL and MLB all sewn up for the foreseeable future, Major League Soccer (MLS) signing up with Apple and college sports deals falling into place, the NBA is the last major opportunity for broadcasters and streaming platforms to roll the dice for some time.

Indeed, the NBA believes it can treble its current US$24 billion arrangement to US$75 billion by attracting the interest of Apple and Amazon and by carving out new packages that cater for new platforms.

It is clear the NBA is in a favourable position in what is a seller’s market. It is unlikely WBD wants to contemplate life without basketball but it is making it clear that it will not retain the rights at any price and wants additional streaming access as part of any future package.

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