Warner Bros. Discovery is ready to spend again and could be a big player for the expanded college football playoffs, The Post has learned.
What should you know: ESPN and Fox Sports are still the favorites because they own much of college football’s regular season. ESPN (which has SEC, ACC and Big 12 rights) and Fox (Big Ten, Big 12) make a lot of sense, and are well positioned to land more college football. Amazon, NBC and Apple all will be mentioned and can’t be counted out.
ESPN currently owns the rights to college football playoffs for the next three years, including this one. ESPN has two choices: It could have all 11 playoff games in 2024 and 2025, or it could allow a second entity to be involved. In 2026, the rights would be fully up. ESPN also is in position to leverage its rights to extend its deal.
Fox’s strong relationship with the Big Ten and Big 12 make it a stalking horse for the NCAA.
What’s for sale: Next year, the playoffs are moving from four teams to 12, meaning there will be 11 games per year as opposed to the three now with the semifinals and championship.
Warner wild card: Though everyone will have preliminary talks with the NCAA, Warner Bros. — which consists of TNT, TBS and Max streaming — may be one to watch because it is now better positioned financially after paring back with cuts and now may be looking to spend.
The company wants to re-up its long-standing deal with the NBA, but also sees a field where there are not many rights available. The NBA, WWE and NASCAR are the biggest. It already has wrestling with AEW, WWE’s competitor.
Championship college sports: Not to go all John Ourand on you, but one aspect that makes sense for WBD Sports is sales. WBD Sports partners with CBS for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but doesn’t have any college football. If they were to get a piece of the NCAA’s expanded playoffs, they would be able to pair college basketball and football ads together.
Discontinuity: There are a lot of advantages to having ESPN and Fox be the home to the playoffs. They own the most regular-season college football, so it would be organic. Warner Bros. Discovery would be a little out of left field, but money talks.
Missing link: The Warner Bros. portfolio is perpetually underrated. It has the NBA, NCAA Tournament, MLB playoffs, NHL playoffs and more. Every other year, it has the final Final Four and the Stanley Cup. It does not have football — college or pro — but you could see how it might fit into the company’s plans. I’d watch WBD Sports in these negotiations.
The idea that ESPN somehow helped end the Pac-12 is kind of uninformed considering it offered $30 million per team at one point and was turned down. These networks aren’t charities, so ESPN turned around and did the same deal with the Big 12. The networks (ESPN and Fox) do play a part in the conference realignment, but the schools are the ones that are taking the money. The networks are operating as businesses. … Wanted to add to something I said on the pod last week where I gave credit to ESPN because with Colorado moving to Big 12, it will have two-thirds of the Big 12 games and that should mean more Deion Sanders. I failed to mention that ESPN is paying around $300 million while Fox Sports is paying $150 million. So yes, more Prime Time is better, but ESPN is paying for the privilege. … Alex Rodriguez called his final games for ESPN last week. He will do baseball only for Fox Sports beginning next year.
McManus on Romo
If you are reading this and you love sports media, I think you would really enjoy the interview that Ourand and I did with CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus.
Besides going behind the scenes of his career, including the legendary move to bring the NFL back to CBS in 1998 — McManus said his hand was shaking when he signed the deal — we discussed the intervention with the network’s lead NFL game analyst Tony Romo.
While McManus disagreed about the term “intervention,” saying he speaks to all his broadcasters, he did go into detail about what he told Romo when he flew down to Dallas to meet with his $180 million man.
“I emphasized the positive and some ways I thought he could be better,” McManus said. “We talked about specifics, like telestrating more on the offensive and defensive line, which I think — and our production people are tired of hearing me say this — but I think the line play, at least half the time, determines the success or failure of a play. On a napkin, I drew suggested ways he could more highlight the pulling guard or the kick-out block. He loved that. He said, ‘You’re right. I love that.’
“He then talked to [CBS No. 1 game producer] Jim Rikhoff about doing more end-zone and sky cam replays from behind the quarterback. We talked about being more active in the production meetings, which he loved with our crew. We talked about being concise and getting in and out and letting the play-by-play man have his time and letting the broadcast breathe a little bit. We talked about when the game is at its absolute peak and everyone in the stadium is yelling and going crazy to make sure you don’t get taken away by the moment and you’re still an analyst.
“One of the things that makes Tony so great is that he’s a huge fan. I think the viewer at home really enjoys that. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up and be a fan and I just reminded him, ‘You’re a broadcaster first and a fan second.’”
NBA’s national dilemma
The NBA has created a new in-season tournament, which is smart for long-term national TV inventory. Though money always wins the day, if I were the NBA, one of the biggest things I would be trying to figure out is: How can we make national regular-season games more important?
It may be an impossible task, but in a digital world, where the goal is to allow everyone to have access to everything, how do you make non-postseason games continue to have their historic value without alienating people?
Look at MLB: The national regular-season cable and streaming windows may be unsustainable. The same game is played the two days prior or the two days following the national games on ESPN, Apple and Peacock. So where is the real value long-term to making these matchups showcases? They regularly feel like an inconvenience to fans (less so when they’re on ESPN).
I have already said the NBA really should cut down the regular-season schedule, because scarcity creates more value long-term and would, in theory, alleviate the issue of stars taking rest days. I’d go from 82 games to 60.
The owners and players won’t because it would mean less money in the short term and because regional sports networks have guarantees for certain amounts of games.
The NBA likely is going to divvy up its right package three ways. ESPN is expected to retain its deal. Amazon is the favorite over Apple for a new digital package. WBD Sports and NBC/USA/Peacock could fight over a deal. So the NBA may want more inventory to split three ways.
Everyone will want the playoffs and Finals. Can they figure out a way to make national regular-season games more important? It may not matter this time around because the NBA will do well. But the league will need to consider whether it’s offering long-term value. Is there a way to marry the local rights issue — the trouble with Diamond Sports and the RSNs — with its national games? I’d be thinking about the next contract, not just this one, and a way to make every national regular-season game more exclusive is something the NBA needs to solve.