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Zaslav: Warner Is Still a ‘Leader in Sports Around the World’ Without the NBA

 David Zaslav.
David Zaslav.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav told a Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference audience Thursday that his conglomerate is still in negotiations to renew TNT Sports’s TV rights to the NBA past the 2024-25 season.

(You can hear a full replay here.)

But Zaslav otherwise spoke like an executive who has come to terms with the loss of U.S TV's most powerful live-sports draw next to pro and college football.

Calling TNT’s remaining live sports portfolio still “robust,” Zaslav said WBD has been on a "journey" in the U.S.

“We added hockey with [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman; we added a summer of NASCAR; we just added college football,” Zaslav said. “When you put that together with March Madness and baseball playoffs and the U.S. Soccer that we have, it is a very robust offering for consumers that they can watch on TNT In the U.S. all year round, and that is our job, is to continue to look at, how do we continue to nourish an audience that loves sports on TNT?”

Speaking further on WBD's sports rights portfolio, Zaslav called the company a “leader” internationally.

“We have the Olympics in Europe … a full buffet of content around the world,” he said. “We have football in a number of markets in Europe and Latin America. This is what we do for a living. We’re in the business of sport and in sport, deals come up and you look at those deals and you make a decision about the overall quality of the full menu of content you have for each of your platforms.”

Last week, Zaslav and his management team were called "clowns" by former NBA playing legend Charles Barkley, linchpin host of TNT’s iconic Atlanta-based studio show Inside the NBA. Barkley described the mood and morale of the show's production team, which has been together for decades, as terrible.

But everything’s fine.

“I was just down in Atlanta,“ Zaslav said. “We’ve got a great team down there and we love our experience with the NBA.”

According to recent published reports in Sports Business Journal, Puck and Bloomberg, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has grown “annoyed” with Zaslav and his WBD team. The league regards its U.S. TV rights negotiations for the 11-year period from 2025 to 2036 as functionally completed, with rights dispersed to incumbent Disney/ESPN, as well as Comcast NBCUniversal and Amazon Prime Video.

Silver and the league view WBD as having missed its chance to re-up its rights during the exclusive negotiating window back in March. The league reportedly wanted $2.3 billion a season, and WBD was not willing to come up from $2.1 billion.

Ultimately, NBCU swooped in with a winning offer of $2.5 billion a season.

WBD believes it has the right to match any officer and may still try to outbid the new $1.8 billion package carved out for Amazon. The NBA, however, disagrees that WBD’s rights-matching abilities extend to the new Amazon package, so such a quest could wind up in court.