Since Discovery’s April 2022 closing of its acquisition of WarnerMedia, there have been lots of developments on the sports front for the new Warner Bros Discovery. Many prominent executives have left, including long-time Turner Sports execs Lenny Daniels and Tina Shah. And the company has made some big changes, including their ongoing effort to move on from the AT&T SportsNet RSNs.
There also have been some notable comments about the WBD Sports rights future, including overall WBD president and CEO David Zaslav saying “We don’t have to have the NBA” (although that’s since been slightly walked back by him and others). And the company as a whole is moving on from numerous properties they had for a long while, even taking some of them off of HBO Max. With all that in mind, Richard Deitsch of The Athletic had a good question for WBD Sports chair and CEO Luis Silberwasser on a joint CBS/WBD NCAA Tournament preview call Tuesday, asking “How committed is Warner Bros. Discovery to being a partner in this property for the long term?” Here’s what Silberwasser (seen above) said in response:
“Very committed, I mean very committed. We have a very longstanding partnership since 2011. We have a deal with the NCAA and with CBS that goes for many more years. It is one of our premiere events. Our strategy on sports may be slightly different, we don’t have a sports network, per se, so we need to be disciplined and very choiceful about the things that we agree to do and want to do. But once we do, once that becomes part of our portfolio, we go all in.”
“And we try to listen and to create experiences for the fans that are fantastic. And I think that makes us very unique in the ecosystem. And in this case, with the NCAA tournament, it is something that we value tremendously. It is part of our premiere and premium sports rights portfolio, and we see it as one of the best things we have. We look forward to our partnership, and we’re super invested, and we’re all in.”
On the one hand, yes, it’s expected that an executive would say nice things about how much they value a tournament they already have rights to through 2032. And it would be much more newsworthy if Silberwasser had said the opposite and indicated they were looking to move on. But the “very committed,” “super invested,” and “all in” comments are at least notable to have on the record, especially in an era where WBD is actually moving on from content they have rights to. (And it’s notable that Turner did that once before even before this deal, exiting the UEFA Champions League early in 2020 and handing that over to CBS.) Leaving this NCAA contract would not be easy, but it would be possible, and there are networks who would certainly want this content. So it is significant to have Silberwasser on the record about this as “one of the best things” in their “premiere and premium sports rights portfolio.”
There also was a notable comment late in this call from CBS Sports chair Sean McManus. Given the decline in cable households thanks to expanded cord-cutting, McManus was asked by Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch if there had been or might be discussions about putting more Final Fours and championship games on broadcast on CBS (it currently alternates each year). Here’s what he said:
“When [former Turner exec] David Levy and I set down on an envelope with a pencil, and mathed out what we thought this relationship could result in, David was very clear from Day 1 in saying ‘For this deal to work well’ for what was at that time Turner Sports, it’s now part of Discovery obviously, he was very upfront in saying ‘We need to have championship games. If we’re going to be partners with CBS on this, we need to be equal partners. And that means once we get into the meat of this deal, I need to have the championship game and the Final Four semifinals every other year.’ We’ve had some discussion about possibly altering that so we get the championship game every year and Turner gets the Final Four every year or vice versa, but those discussions have never come to fruition and they’ve never been all that serious. I think the pattern that is in place works really well for the partnership. And I don’t see it changing in the future.”
So it’s notable that not just the WBD Sports chair is publicly stating their commitment to this partnership, but the CBS Sports chair is also saying he doesn’t expect changes. (And they both had plenty of nice things to say about each other and each others’ companies at the start of this call as well, of course, but that’s to be expected.) Of course, things can change in a hurry in sports media; there was very little chatter about the AT&T SportsNet RSNs even a couple months ago, and that situation escalated quickly. But for now, everyone involved is talking up WBD Sports not just being committed to the NCAA Tournament for the moment, but for the long haul.
[Photo from WBD.com]