ESPN sends select College Football Playoff games to WBD’s TNT, Max

Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT Sports inked a five-year deal to sublicense select College Football Playoff games from Disney’s ESPN starting this season.

Specifically, TNT Sports will air two first-round playoff games each year, including in 2024 and 2025.  Additionally, starting in 2026 TNT will add two quarter-final games each year through the 2028 season.

WBD said TNT will be the primary network exclusively televising the sublicensed games, “among additional TNT Sports distribution platforms.” In addition to traditional cable networks, the CFP games will be distributed on WBD’s Max streaming service, a WBD spokesperson confirmed to StreamTV Insider.

Max last year launched its Bleacher Report Sports (B/R Sports) live sports add-on that includes simulcasts of WBD’s live linear sports and an on-demand library.

“We’re delighted to reach this agreement with ESPN, providing TNT Sports the opportunity to showcase these College Football Playoff games on our platforms for years to come,” said Luis Silberwasser, Chairman and CEO of TNT Sports, in a statement. “TNT Sports aims to delight fans and drive maximum reach and engagement for these marquee games.”

ESPN’s networks will still air all other College Football Playoff games, including the National Championship, and continue to handle the sponsorship program for the football tournament.

ESPN SVP of Programming & Acquisitions Rosalyn Durant in a statement highlighted additional reach from WBD’s distribution.

“We’re confident in the reach and promotion that this new agreement will provide as we enter the new, expanded playoff era,” Durant said.

The College Football Playoffs are poised to get a shakeup this year, with the tournament expanding from four teams to 12.

The first round of CFP games for the 2024-2025 season are slated for December 20 and 21.

The move comes as WBD is in the midst of its own competition to hold on to popular NBA media rights. On Wednesday, Sports Business Journal, citing industry sources, reported the NBA this week is “formalizing written contracts with Disney, NBC and Amazon” for three separate packages of games, describing the situation as in the “the final stage of media rights negotiations” for the league.

With WBD’s TNT a long-time incumbent NBA rights holder (for nearly 40 years) alongside Disney, the company previously had an exclusive negotiating window which has since lapsed but its earlier contract means it gets the chance and would need to match a competing offer, if and when finalized, for games it currently licenses from the NBA. Reports from NBC News and SBJ indicated terms for packages are still fluid, but the latter pegged NBC’s offer at potentially worth between $2.5 billion - $2.6 billion per year and Amazon’s between $1.8 billion and $2 billion. According to the SBJ report, if debt laden WBD decides not to pay a high price tag for the rights, its other options would be to pass altogether on NBA rights or potentially take legal action against the league “over the definition of a match.”  

During WBD’s first quarter earnings call on May 9, CEO David Zaslav said the company “had a lot of time to prepare for this negotiation and we have strategies in place for the various potential outcomes.”

And “under our current deal with the NBA we have matching rights that allow us to match third-party offers before the NBA enters into an agreement with them,” Zaslav added, without giving more specifics on which path WBD intends to pursue.  

The potentially impending loss of NBA rights for WBD also come as the company alongside Disney’s ESPN and Fox intend to launch a sports streaming bundle via their joint venture newly named Venu Sports this fall in the U.S., combining their respective assets including linear sports networks and DTC services.