Former tennis player John McEnroe Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav and actor Dustin Hoffman attend the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Early in his tenure as Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO, David Zaslav fired a shot across the bow of the upcoming NBA media rights negotiation when he said “We don’t have to have the NBA.”

Media partners rarely make these types of comments, especially with a league as established and in demand as the NBA. Many interpreted the comments as a clear sign that Zaslav and WBD might not value their relationship with the NBA at a level that would lead to smooth renegotiation.

Since Zaslav’s very public misstep, sports media pundits and fans of TNT’s coverage of the NBA have latched onto the comments, with Zaslav becoming a very public figure as the NBA TV rights negotiations have taken center stage over the past few months. He’s replaced Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff as a name in the business recognized by fans but for all the wrong reasons despite Zaslav trying to walk back those initial comments.

Nothing is final and Zaslav still has an opportunity for WBD and TNT to continue their relationship with the NBA and repair his reputation with fans, but today’s update from Tom Friend at the Sports Business Journal, only further confirms what fans have thought about how Zaslav has handled the negotiations. Friend notes that the company appeared to have brought this situation on itself.

It is also becoming clearer how WBD reached this perilous point in negotiations. During Disney’s and WBD’s exclusive negotiating window from mid-March to April 22, industry sources said Disney was firm about not letting the “A” package go on the open market. So it purportedly doubled or came close to doubling its old rights fee of $1.4B annually to $2.8B.

But those same sources said Zaslav — whose company paid $1.2B for NBA media rights a decade ago — believed he would only have to pay between $1.8B and $2.1B to retain the “B” package this time around and refused to double to $2.4B. That is why the bidding ventured into the marketplace and why NBC leaped in. If WBD does, in fact, lose the NBA, 2024-25 will be its final season under the current deal.

With the rights now on the open market, Friend reports the price of NBA rights has gone up, the exact reason why Disney didn’t let their package go on the market.

NBC’s proposed “B” package is believed to be now worth $2.6B annually — up from a reported $2.5B — and would probably include a “Basketball Night in America” on Sunday nights following the NFL season, a total of two primetime windows a week, conference semifinals and a conference final. Amazon’s deal is believed to be worth between $1.8B and $2B

Zaslav is now scrambling to use the network’s “matching rights” clause to match either NBC or Amazon’s offer. Unfortunately, the inside chatter is that the NBA actually won’t accept a matching offer for either package and would need WBD to beat one of the two offers on the table, which does not seem ideal.

Bottom line, if you trust the reports that have come out, Zaslav refused to offer $2.4 billion a year to keep their “B” package and is now hoping to pay $2.6 billion a year for what seems like a slimmed-down package or ~$2 billion for a new “C” package. Essentially it looks like WBD is either going to lose the NBA or they’ll have to pay more for a smaller package than what they might have been able to make a deal for a month ago.

This latest development only adds more meat to the bone that Zaslav has mishandled and undervalued the NBA relationship. Perhaps that was the plan all along and he will spin it as a positive from a cost-cutting perspective. But as streaming services like Amazon, Peacock, and Netflix start shoring up their sports offerings, it’s a big blow to WBD and Max in their attempt to keep up with the Joneses and stop subscriber bleeding. To say nothing of how it devalues the upcoming Venu Sports streaming service that they’re partnered with ESPN and Fox on.

The deals aren’t official just yet, but it looks like Zaslav was correct in his statement that WBD “didn’t have to have the NBA.” Just not in the way he meant it.


About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to