How the NBA and Comcast Might Be About to Destroy Warner Bros. Discovery

Over the course of just about two weeks, the reporting surrounding the NBA’s negotiations for a new TV deal has been a rollercoaster – and left me alternately supremely confused about the league’s thinking, and that of their potential partners, and worried about what will happen to the league’s longest-running partner.

Unlike the last round of NBA media rights deals, when ESPN and TNT renewed their agreements during their exclusive negotiating window, the league and their partners let the exclusive window lapse this time around – but shortly after the window expired, John Ourand reported in Puck that ESPN had “essentially come to terms” with the NBA on the league’s “A” package, which included continuing to be the exclusive home of the NBA Finals. The next day, Ourand’s former podcast partner Andrew Marchand reported in the Athletic that Amazon had reached a “framework for an agreement” that would give them a package of games as well, giving the NBA games exclusive to a streaming provider for the first time, and also that ESPN would be reducing its package of games from 100 to 80 “in one arrangement” – a surprisingly small reduction that wouldn’t be enough to remove a night of NBA games from ESPN’s schedule for an entire season.

Both of them reported that NBCUniversal remained in the running to fight with TNT over the remaining package, but the combination of the two reports seemed to suggest that NBC was a decided underdog. If ABC was going to retain all of the NBA Finals, that would remove a significant point of interest for any Comcast bid that contained a significant broadcast presence. Any continued presence of Comcast in the bidding would seem to be one that placed a high priority on games on its Peacock streaming service, with any NBC games as an added bonus along the lines of the two games NBC simulcasted with Peacock as part of the service’s “Sunday Leadoff” baseball package over the last two seasons. But now the NBA had reached a deal with Amazon, so its desire for a streaming component to its deals had already been met, and it would be a decided risk to sign a deal for games on another streaming service, one significantly smaller and more unproven than Prime Video, while abandoning a partner of such long vintage in TNT that they’d been airing games since before NBC’s previous stint with the league, one that had long attracted rave reviews for the quality of its coverage, both in-game and with its acclaimed “Inside the NBA” studio crew. Coupled with TNT’s right to match any competing offer, the chances of NBC making its triumphant return to the NBA seemed to have drastically diminished.

ESPN has a bit of a habit of rushing in early in TV negotiations and locking down enough rights to decidedly neuter the desirability of a package for a second partner and ensuring their pre-eminence within the sport. In 2012, it locked up all of their then-three Major League Baseball packages, effectively shutting Fox and NBC out of the packages that might have best boosted their respective sports networks, reducing Fox to giving FS1 Saturday games on crowded sports days with slates not worth airing on the broadcast network and a handful of weeknight games until the postseason. Then there’s ESPN’s current deal with the NHL, where ESPN picked up so much in the way of desirable rights, including ESPN’s choice of conference finals every year (in a league with a nearly two-in-three chance of at least one Canadian team reaching that round), that even with the Winter Classic and three out of seven Stanley Cup Finals still on the table as part of the B package, it was left too undesirable for anyone but TNT to take despite their lack of a broadcast network and existing commitment to AEW on Wednesday nights.

ESPN may well have seen securing all the Finals the same way. Ourand would later suggest that the NBA, famous for signing what’s widely considered the first cable-first deal for a major league when it left NBC for ESPN in 2002, now wanted the reach of a broadcast network for its “B” package. At his former employer, SportsBusiness Journal, Tom Friend reported that the NBA wanted to have ABC alternate the Finals with another partner, which ESPN fought tooth and nail until finally agreeing to pay $2.6 billion for a package with all the NBA Finals. ESPN might well have thought that by taking all the Finals, before most contenders other than TNT could even come to the table, they’d defang the one big attraction any package would have to broadcast networks and something that most would consider table stakes for any broadcast-centric package – ensuring that other than giving a handful of games to a streamer, the NBA wouldn’t have much choice but to perpetuate the status quo, helping to keep the price of all three packages down, and wouldn’t have any options other than ABC to provide that increased reach via broadcast television. That may help explain why TNT allowed their exclusive negotiating window to lapse without a deal, confident they could match any offer any other company could bring to the table dollar-for-dollar.

But both companies may have underestimated Comcast’s determination – and the result may well end up being the death warrant for all of Warner Bros. Discovery. 

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The Game to Show the Games Podcast: Episode 1 (of 1?)


I don’t know if I’m going to do any more of these. I’m glad I did it, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it, and I won’t rule out doing more audio stuff in the future (weird voice and all), but it took a lot out of me, chewed up most of my week, and I realized that if I were to spend more of it speaking off the cuff – even (perhaps especially) if I had a cohost – I’d probably leave a lot of dead air as I thought about what to say, which wouldn’t mesh well with the gimmick I came up with, and which would be a problem when writing a script takes almost as much effort for each topic as a full-fledged blog post would. (I mention I have a partially-written post on Pat McAfee sitting in my drafts, and I may end up publishing it largely adapted from what I say about him here.) It’s an interesting idea and I think you’ll find the result interesting as well, but I’m not sure this format is for me.

After the jump, timestamps and relevant links for each segment. 

Read moreThe Game to Show the Games Podcast: Episode 1 (of 1?)

In the Wake of the Disney-Charter Deal, What Networks are Living on Borrowed Time?

Last month the Walt Disney Company and Charter Communications reached a landmark carriage agreement that included Charter dropping all but three of Disney’s general entertainment networks, including networks that were still airing original programming and, in the case of FXX, pretty popular original programming at that. As I wrote earlier this week, it’s a major landmark in the linear television bundle being refocused on what linear television is good at, live events such as sports and news, with other networks serving primarily as a platform to premiere content at designated times in advance of appearing on their true streaming-service home, as well as distinct brands to organize such content, while potentially serving as a stepping stone to such streaming services becoming the true heart of the cable bundle. It’s fair to wonder what other networks could be at risk of being dropped by providers if distributors insist on similar terms from the other major programmers.

Although I made my post a month after the whole thing went down, this post is surprisingly timely: earlier this week, after I made my post, S&P Global Market Intelligence put out a report listing the networks they see as being at risk from the major programmers if they end up taking similar deals to Disney-Charter. I actually think they’re way too pessimistic about some channels, but also overlook a number of channels that would seem to be very much at risk, in my view. I’m going to make my own analysis, separate from theirs, about which networks are relatively safe and which ones are at risk. To assist in this endeavor, I’m going to refer to this table from TVNewser showing how many viewers each network averaged in total day and primetime for 2022; for numbers in the 18-49 demo, I’ll be referring to this Variety article which contains more incomplete data, and only includes the top 50 networks across broadcast and cable in primetime. 

Read moreIn the Wake of the Disney-Charter Deal, What Networks are Living on Borrowed Time?

How Charter Took On Disney’s 800-Pound Gorilla and Won – and Redefined the Cable Bundle in the Process

For decades, carriage disputes have been a way of life for those still immersed in the cable bundle – a source of frustration as popular networks have been held hostage in staring contests between pay TV providers and major media companies, ending, inevitably, in rates going up for all customers. But what happened for ten and a half days at the start of September was unique, indeed unprecedented, in two different ways. First, this was the first time, at least in recent memory, a carriage dispute directly affected me. Second, and far more importantly, for all that these disputes have become more contentious over the years as providers have positioned themselves as trying to hold the line on increasing programming costs and keeping customers from paying for channels they don’t want, the company more responsible for both of those things than any other – Disney, and specifically ESPN – has been largely immune to such clashes, with cable providers too fearful of the blowback from losing the 800-pound gorilla in the sports world to risk losing it even for a moment. This, though, was the first time, possibly ever, that any major cable provider was willing to lose ESPN and the other Disney networks for as long as a week. And though the sides ended up making up just hours before a highly-anticipated Monday Night Football showdown, the much-anticipated debut (and, as it turned out, possible swan song) of Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets, in the end Charter Communications and its Spectrum-branded services managed to win some significant concessions from Disney – concessions that could ultimately define the future of the cable bundle. 

Read moreHow Charter Took On Disney’s 800-Pound Gorilla and Won – and Redefined the Cable Bundle in the Process

Plotting the Future of Local Sports Distribution – By Returning to Its Past?

When we look back, we may find that the end of the age of the regional sports network came very slowly, and then all at once.

That’s not to say that the age of the RSN is actually over, of course. Only two RSN groups are in serious trouble: Bally Sports and its parent Diamond Sports Group with its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, and AT&T Sportsnet, which will be shut down by new parent Warner Bros. Discovery at the end of baseball season. Other RSNs and RSN groups continue to be profitable, and even within those groups there are RSNs that won’t be shut down entirely; Diamond has made payments to all but three MLB teams it has rights to for the rest of the season, and the Root Sports network in the Pacific Northwest, majority-owned by the Seattle Mariners, will not only remain extant but possibly remain operated by WBD. The problems with those two groups are that Sinclair overpaid for the former Fox Sports RSNs and didn’t have much of a plan to deal with the collapse of the cable bundle, not helped by Major League Baseball and its commissioner Rob Manfred deciding to play hardball with direct-to-consumer streaming rights, that Discovery may not have even wanted to inherit the RSNs (and for a while I wasn’t even completely certain they had) when they took WarnerMedia off of AT&T’s hands, and both of them ran into newly emboldened cable operators dropping them left and right, with RSNs all but disappearing from Dish Network and most streaming TV providers. The former Fox RSNs no longer benefitted from being lumped in with the rest of Fox’s networks, and AT&T and WBD never put any real effort into lumping their RSNs in with their national cable networks, while the move to WBD meant those RSNs were no longer co-owned with a distributor that could effectively subsidize the network. The NBC Sports RSNs have the benefit of other networks to bundle with and Comcast providing guaranteed carriage, so they’re in nowhere near as bad a shape.

And yet, should the Bally Sports networks completely collapse, the only RSN in the entire country that wouldn’t be at least partially owned by at least one of the teams it carries would be NBC Sports California in northern California – assuming that network even survives the pending move of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. The Bally networks account for around half the US teams in the three major sports that provide content to RSNs, so even if its problems can be attributed to Sinclair’s mismanagement the fate of the Bally RSNs would effectively determine the fate of the RSN market as a whole, and their collapse would mark the point where it became clear that RSNs are no longer a license to print money and can only sustain themselves under specific economic circumstances, be they some combination of being owned by a team, owned by a distributor, or owned by a company able and willing to bundle them with other popular cable networks. And just because other RSNs are doing fine financially now doesn’t mean they’ll continue to be; cord-cutting is continuing apace, weakening the revenue streams for other RSNs (MSG was reportedly already flirting with bankruptcy itself this spring), and with potentially over half the teams in each league caught up in the proceedings, what they do now will help set the path for everyone else. Do they simply take over their existing RSN, or start a new one? Do the leagues take over the RSNs and use them to transition to a new streaming-focused distribution model? Or do teams and leagues rediscover a technology that’s been largely ignored for the last few decades but could be perfect for this new era? 

Read morePlotting the Future of Local Sports Distribution – By Returning to Its Past?

What does the future of broadcast television look like?

If there’s one tweet that sums up the conundrum broadcast television has found itself in for going on 15 years now, it’s this:


As I’ve been writing about for years, most notably in Chapter 7 of my book, this dynamic has led broadcasters to neglect their own nominal medium in the years since the dawn of the modern retransmission consent era – not merely to collect more money than they could get from advertising alone, but at least before cord-cutting caught on, as an existential lifeline allowing them to hope to compete with cable networks that could extract subscriber fees from cable operators without having their leverage undermined by the ability of people to watch their content for free. Even as cord-cutting has ramped up, the broadcast industry has remained sufficiently dependent on retransmission consent that they have not only done little to take advantage of the phenomenon, they’ve crippled any efforts to help them do so, from killing Aereo and Locast to at-best hesitantly embracing the stopgap technology allowing broadcast signals to be received by mobile devices directly.

Read moreWhat does the future of broadcast television look like?

How Thursday Night Football on Amazon Might Be Putting the Final Nail in the Coffin of the Regional Sports Network Market

When word came out that Amazon had guaranteed advertisers 12.5 million viewers for its new Thursday Night Football package, most observers poo-pooed the notion that they would get anything close to that and figured Amazon would find themselves in a massive financial hole trying to make up for it with very limited commercial inventory with which to do so, especially any that would be of any use for reaching Americans. As much as leagues and media companies have been rushing to jump onboard the bandwagon of streaming sports events, whenever streaming numbers for events also airing on linear networks have been publicized they’ve been a small fraction of the linear audience, and even events airing exclusively on streaming have received audiences far smaller than what their leagues are used to. Back in 2020, when Amazon aired a Niners-Cardinals game on a December Saturday – the only previous time, to my immediate recollection, that the NFL had aired a non-London game exclusively on streaming – it attracted an audience of 4.8 million, hammocked by games exclusive to NFL Network that picked up audiences of 6.1 and 8.4 million. To be sure, becoming the consistent, weekly home to Thursday Night Football, including games involving popular, valuable, relevant teams, would help Amazon achieve better ratings, but at best they would be in the neighborhood of those NFLN-exclusive games on Saturdays and Thursdays, approaching but almost certainly not passing 9 million, let alone coming close to 12.5 million; even executives within the league itself suggested the expectation shouldn’t be more than 7 or 8 million. Outside of Amazon’s own offices, the question wasn’t whether Amazon’s sky-high guarantees would turn out to be folly if not outright scamming advertisers, it was by how much.

But whatever it was Amazon did or had on its side that no one else was taking into account, be it heavily advertising TNF on anything associated with them, having an established subscriber base, or just having viewership on mobile devices count towards their Nielsen-rated numbers when it counts for no one else, it paid off, in a way that, as Amazon executives would have you think, exceeded even their own expectations. When the numbers finally came in for Amazon’s season-opening game between the Chargers and Chiefs, it clocked in at a whopping 13 million viewers – a number that included viewing on local TV stations in the teams’ respective markets, but even for the most popular teams that shouldn’t ever exceed 1.5 million for any game. (The numbers have fallen below the initial advertiser guarantees in the subsequent weeks, but have remained above 11 million.) It was a jaw-dropping number that hit the sports media Twitterverse like an atom bomb – and could turn out to be a turning point for sports on TV more generally. 

Read moreHow Thursday Night Football on Amazon Might Be Putting the Final Nail in the Coffin of the Regional Sports Network Market

How the Rise of Superconferences is Killing the Soul of College Football

Thursday, June 30, 2022 may go down as the day college football as many fans knew it officially died, as that was the day the Big Ten stunned the college football world, as the addition of USC and UCLA to the conference went from being reported by various reporters, initially with the clarification that it wasn’t a done deal, to being officially announced in the space of a few hours. It’s easy to see the move as a desperation bid by the Big Ten in response to the SEC poaching Texas and Oklahoma a year earlier, which created the first sixteen-team “superconference” in college football, crippled the Big 12 and left them in a liminal state where they’re likely to be seen as only barely a power conference at best, and threatened to create a gap between the SEC and other conferences that might be insurmountable. None of the other schools in the Big 12 could bring nearly as much of a brand name or fanbase to any of the other conferences to even be worth splitting the pie more ways, let alone make up the gap to the SEC, and the Pac-12 and ACC seemed to be cohesive enough conferences, with strong relationships between their member institutions, as to be off-limits to be poached by the Big Ten or each other.

Read moreHow the Rise of Superconferences is Killing the Soul of College Football

Is MLS’ Deal with Apple TV the Future of Sports?

Three years ago, back in the Before Times, SportsBusiness Journal reported that Major League Soccer had opted to do something rather eyebrow-raising. MLS had told its existing and future teams not to sell local broadcast rights beyond 2022 when its national TV deals were set to expire, in hopes of maximizing the value the league could offer to potential media partners. With both national and local TV revenue falling short of other soccer or American professional sports leagues, this represented a big gamble to try and maximize the league’s media revenue going forward, but Awful Announcing observed that it carried a big risk of backfiring regardless of whether or not it was successful. It would almost assuredly only work if MLS reached a deal with a streaming service, at a time when tech companies had shown little serious interest in American sports and legacy media companies were only just starting to dip their toes in the water of streaming, and most companies would likely balk at taking on both national and local MLS rights; by not being able to sell local rights to the most valuable teams separately those teams’ rights would be undervalued, and with them, potentially local MLS rights as a whole; but on the flip side, if MLS didn’t sell local rights to anyone, all the teams would be stuck with what the state of the local rights market, and of local MLS TV ratings, would be in 2022, for better and worse.

In the end, though, MLS’ gamble paid off brilliantly – and in a way that could forge a path for other leagues going forward. Two weeks ago MLS announced a 10-year agreement with Apple unlike any other in American sports. While Apple is guaranteeing MLS $250 million a year, and will have the rights to show some games for free and on Apple TV+, the core of the deal is a partnership MLS and Apple are entering into to create a new streaming service, accessible through the Apple TV app, with rights to every single MLS game, across the country and around the world, whether in- or out-of-market. MLS will produce coverage of every game with commentary in English and Spanish (and French for Canadian teams) or from each team’s local radio broadcast. MLS still hopes to reach an agreement with a linear TV partner(s), but any such games would be simulcast with Apple, not exclusive, and in a “letter to fans” from Commissioner Don Garber, it’s indicated that any such agreement would only be for the “early years” of the partnership, meaning if streaming of live sports was sufficiently mainstream down the line, MLS could yet abandon linear TV entirely. 

Read moreIs MLS’ Deal with Apple TV the Future of Sports?

What Does the WarnerMedia-Discovery Merger Mean for Sports (At Least Stateside)?

Earlier this month AT&T announced it was ending its involvement in the media business after only three years from the closure of its merger with Time Warner. The assets now known as WarnerMedia would be merged with Discovery to form a new entity with no AT&T ownership and with Discovery head David Zaslav in charge of the merged company, which might sound an awful lot like Discovery buying WarnerMedia (and AT&T would get plenty of compensation in the form of cash and absorption of debt obligations, albeit amounting to pennies on the dollar from the original Time Warner acquisition), except AT&T shareholders would own nearly three-quarters of the new company. WarnerMedia’s diverse portfolio of adult and children’s entertainment networks, plus news networks and sports content, premium cable, and the HBO Max service launched under AT&T, would now be joining forces with Discovery’s documentary, reality, and other nonfiction programming.

A number of analysts in the aftermath suggested this would be a “game changer” for sports with “one more bidder entering the market” for sports rights, with one analyst claiming it would have “profound implications” as the new company could create a “must-have sports streaming service”, but considering that WarnerMedia already had high-profile sports rights and Discovery didn’t have any US sports rights whatsoever, nor does either company have a broadcast network presence, it’s hard to see how the new company is any more of a factor in sports rights negotiations than WarnerMedia already was. To be sure, before this year it had been a long time since Turner had been much of a factor in trying to acquire rights they didn’t already own and that were in any way competitive, the main exception being a run with the UEFA Champions League that only ended up lasting a year and a half and didn’t particularly impress soccer fans.

Then sports media watchers were blindsided when Turner came seemingly out of nowhere to take the half of the NHL package Disney hadn’t locked up, effectively saving the league from having to take significantly less money than they were hoping for after NBC was lukewarm at best to continuing their involvement, Fox set a ceiling on how much they would pay, and CBS wasn’t interested at all. The rights could be said to have fallen into Turner’s lap, but it’s still impressive that Turner was able to pay pretty close to what the NHL was looking for and beat out all other comers (including the possibility that Disney might have simply taken the whole package), and as incredible as it was that ESPN, the outfit more responsible than any other for keeping two Stanley Cup Final games on cable over the past two decades, would be the outfit to finally put every Final game on broadcast, it was even more incredible to find out that the other three Finals over the course of the deal would air entirely on cable, after the great care NBC took in the latter portion of their relationship to ensure NBCSN wouldn’t air a Game 4 where the Cup could be awarded. Zaslav’s comments that he’d been working on the merger for months before word got out (and had been badgering AT&T about a deal pretty much from the instant the Time Warner merger was completed) could serve as fuel for speculation that he was the driving force behind the NHL deal all along, and suggests that if the only impact a WarnerMedia-Discovery merger has on the former company’s sports operation is an infusion of resources (even though the merged company is probably smaller than AT&T as a whole during the WarnerMedia era), that’s still going to be enough to shake up the sports landscape.

But there aren’t a whole lot of high-value rights left. MLS rights, currently shared by ESPN and Fox, expire in 2022, but the value of those rights are a shadow of even the NHL. The NBA is the only one of the traditional four major sports that hasn’t locked up new rights deals in the past few months and Turner will be playing defense there when those rights come up by 2025. The NFL hasn’t settled the future of NFL Sunday Ticket, and SportsBusiness Daily’s John Ourand thinks DiscoverWarnerMedia might become a player there, but it feels like an odd fit without holding any exclusive or linear rights.

With ESPN picking up CBS’ SEC contract, there aren’t any major college conference rights up for renewal before 2024, when the Big Ten and Pac-12’s deals expire, with the Big 12 and Big East following suit the following year; the NCAA’s deal with ESPN for less-prominent sports expires then as well, and those deals could be an opportunity for DiscoverWarnerMedia to deepen their relationship with college sports and the NCAA (whose web site they already run) and avoid simply parachuting in for March Madness. But both ESPN and especially Fox are likely to spend profusely to defend their Big Ten rights, and the Pac-12 right now is in a place where they’re in danger of becoming the clear fifth conference of the Power 5, while the Big 12 has the least valuable demographics of the Power 5 and the Big East has no football and hasn’t moved the needle for FS1 as much as they thought it would. The College Football Playoff, whose current deals run through the 2025 season, is likely to come up at this point as well, but I doubt they have much interest in continuing to be a cable-only enterprise given their popularity and the direction media is headed, and they certainly won’t go with an outfit without any other college football rights (covers ears and sings loudly to drown out people bringing up the BCS on Fox). That’s not even getting into the notion of a large-scale shakeup of college football that might come mid-decade (one that, depending on the players involved, could yet see DiscoverWarnerMedia benefit).

NASCAR comes up for renewal in 2024 as well, but Turner seemed like an odd relic last time they had those rights with a handful of early-summer races, both they and ESPN pretty much didn’t want anything to do with the sport anymore by the time that deal ended, and NASCAR ratings didn’t finish crashing through the floor until a few years into the Fox/NBC era. On the other hand, the shutdown of NBCSN means NBC could be vulnerable to a concerted effort from a determined rival, which, given their portion of the schedule coincides with football season, would mean either Turner or ESPN. Everything else that could move the needle, including the World Cup, SEC, and ACC, are all locked up for the rest of the decade, and anything else that is coming up in that time isn’t likely to move the needle very much.

What Discovery does bring to the table that might make an impact on WarnerMedia’s sports operations is their Eurosport network, and a lot of the excitement surrounding the merger concerns the possibility of blending the Turner networks’ sports rights with Eurosport’s to form an unbeatable sports streaming service. But Eurosport’s slate of rights is singularly unimpressive, at least from an American standpoint, which might be surprising given its prominence; in fact Turner’s rights slate might benefit Eurosport more than the other way around. (Also, the opportunities for synergy are limited given Eurosport broadcasts in each of Europe’s many languages.) What rights Eurosport does have that would be relevant to Americans – the Olympics and PGA Tour – are among the rights already locked up stateside into the next decade (and Turner’s efforts to pick up PGA Tour rights were simply embarrassing, talking about converting one of their networks into a duplicate of what NBC already had), and everything else is a hodgepodge of rights.

It has plenty of soccer, but not much of it applies throughout its territory (in fact very little applies outside Scandinavia and Romania) and what does apply tends to be decidedly lower-tier; they technically have domestic rights to the German Bundesliga (extending to much of Central and Eastern Europe) but resold those rights (as well as those in Austria and Switzerland) to DAZN (which led to DAZN launching German linear channels only reluctantly and while griping about how they shouldn’t be necessary, once again overlooking the true value of linear television). Both outlets would likely be interested in acquiring Premier League rights for as many territories as possible, but that seems to be NBC’s top priority now that Sky Sports, the outlet arguably responsible for the Premier League’s very existence, is a corporate sibling. Eurosport also has rights to the three Grand Tours of bicycle racing, and the Tour de France might be up for the taking with NBCSN shutting down, but it’s not like being on TNT or TBS is actually any different than being on USA.

What stands out to me, looking at Eurosport’s slate of rights from the perspective of the Turner networks, is tennis. Eurosport has pan-European rights to the French and US Opens (excluding rights to the US Open in the UK and Ireland, where Amazon holds rights), to the Australian Open in the vast majority if not all of Europe, and Wimbledon in a majority of countries they serve. They also hold rights to the ATP Tour in France, Russia, Scandinavia, Romania, and Hungary, and the WTA Tour in Denmark and Russia. In the United States, rights to most events outside the Grand Slams are held exclusively by Tennis Channel, which just locked up a deal to become the exclusive home of ATP Tour events, including the most prominent events in North America, for an indeterminate amount of time, though the similar deal with the WTA expires after 2023. Tennis Channel is also the main rightsholder at the French Open, with ESPN holding rights to the other three Grand Slams, though I haven’t seen anything indicating that they’ve reached an agreement with the Australian Open extending past 2021. Their deal with Wimbledon runs through 2023, while the US Open deal runs through 2025; Tennis Channel’s deal with the French Open runs through 2023, with NBC’s deal ending the following year. DiscoverWarnerMedia could be a surprisingly motivated bidder for rights to each of the four Grand Slams, at minimum, over the next four years. Anything else would likely require a relationship with Tennis Channel, and Sinclair Broadcast Group likely doesn’t see a reason to part with it (and certainly not to have the whole company being acquired if it means they don’t get to spread conservative propaganda on their broadcast stations anymore, and DiscoverWarnerMedia likely doesn’t have much stomach for running broadcast stations anyway). Still, this might be the biggest immediate impact of the merger.

There’s one more wrinkle to consider here, albeit one that’s only incidentally related to the merger itself. Though AT&T’s regional sports networks were acquired through the purchase of DirecTV, after the Time Warner merger they were placed in the same part of WarnerMedia as Turner Sports in the News and Sports division under Jeff Zucker, actually separate from the rest of the TBS and TNT networks in the Studios and Networks division. I haven’t seen any mention of the RSNs in any discussions of the deal, and there were rumors for a while that not all of the WB Games division would make the transition to the new company so it’s not a sure thing the RSNs will, but I would normally assume the RSNs will in fact make the transition. Certainly the RSNs were long subject to rumors that AT&T was hoping to unload them in some way, arguably predating the AT&T-DirecTV merger but shifting into overdrive as the RSN market seemingly collapsed, with the prospect of a reunion with their former Fox Sports Net bretheren at Sinclair being particularly floated. With the NHL deal, though, WarnerMedia now has national rights to each of the three sports that make up the backbone of most RSNs, and while ideally you’d want a larger group than just four RSNs (not counting the separate feeds for Utah and Nevada) for this, there’s an opportunity to create some form of synergy between the RSNs and the national outlets, if Zaslav wants it. At the very least, if the RSNs aren’t part of AT&T anymore they’ll probably need a change of name.

In short, there are a lot of obstacles to a combined Discovery-WarnerMedia being a bigger player in sports rights than either company alone, not the least of them being that there isn’t a single package of rights held by both Turner and Eurosport as it stands, other than Russia-specific rights to the NHL, which means there’s not a lot it can do at the moment to create a streaming service that would be fundamentally the same on both sides of the Atlantic. The ability to offer international rights in Europe would certainly help in WarnerMedia’s negotiations with sports leagues, but the entities that would be most interested in that are either locked up for the next decade, already with Turner, or have limited appeal, and Eurosport has shown little interest in the European leagues and competitions that would be interested in a stateside presence, so it seems doubtful the American sports consumer would notice much of a difference. Tennis is probably the only sport where joining forces with Eurosport would pay dividends for the Turner networks in the short term, but even there the impact is likely to be limited. So while this merger is likely to have a significant impact on rights to American sports leagues in Europe, could impact stateside rights to tennis and cycling, and gives both entities an infusion of cash and the ability to bid for trans-Atlantic rights to fuel the pursuit of more sports rights, hyperbolic claims about its impact on the sports landscape are probably unwarranted in the short term; if anything, a good chunk of the impact may have already happened. Still, it’ll be worth keeping a close eye on NBA rights negotiations in the next few years if the deal gets approved; to the extent DiscoverWarnerMedia can launch a trans-Atlantic streaming service, NBA rights will probably have to be the linchpin for it.