Thursday, June 13, 2024

French Open Will Help Warner Bros. Discovery Broaden Sports Offer

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Warner Bros. Discovery is suddenly seeing red — clay, that is — in its bid to build out its sports portfolio.

A new ten-year pact for the U.S. rights to televise the French Open valued at $650 million is seen as a means of offering a greater variety of sports to viewers across both the company’s linear cable networks and its streaming Max hub, according to the executive who oversees the company’s sports division.

“Our strategy is really about premium sports on TNT,” says Luis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO of TNT Sports, during an interview. “We don’t try to do every sport and focus on quantity. We are really focused on quality, and bringing our viewers, our fans, a premium sports experience and content that is different from what they can see on other channels or networks or companies.”

Warner Bros. Discovery has worked in recent years to gain more sports heft. The company has added NHL games and NASCAR races, and, more recently, agreed to sublicense two CFP games from ESPN. It remains to be seen if that strategy will help the company if it indeed loses rights to the NBA that it has enjoyed for three decades. The basketball league is poised to strike deals for a new contract for after the 2024-2025 season with Disney, Amazon and NBCUniversal, but people familiar with the matter say Warner, which has held NBA rights for about three decades, is hoping to convincer the league to consider a fourth package. Warner Bros. Discovery may also try to invoke a right to match a new company’s offer if all else fails, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The new agreement will give TNT new sports hours that help it command some of the highest carriage rates in the industry, after ESPN and some other sports-only offerings. But it’s not clear that the French Open and the new college football games alone will have as big a pull as Warner’s current NBA package.

TNT will have the right to broadcast all live action from the French Tennis Federation’s Grand Slam event in the U.S., starting in 2025. The company’s TruTV will be used as an “all-day studio” that takes viewers to various matches and coverage in “whip-around” fashion. In all, 900 live matches will be made available via Max, including simulcasts of matches that may run on TNT, TBS or TruTV.

“We’re very proud to sign this agreement,”  says Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation, in a statement. ” It will enable the Federation to ensure maximum exposure for Roland-Garros in the USA and help further promote the tournament. With this long-term agreement, we aim to win over new fans in this key territory for the FFT.”

The French Open has been with NBC since the 1980s, but Warner executives “were advised the rights were available,” says Silberwasser, and proceeded to meet with Roland-Garros organizers. Part of the appeal to the French Tennis Federation was the idea of working with the same broadcaster for both European and U.S. rights, says Silberwasser. Warner Bros. Discovery’s Eurosport operation has broadcast Roland-Garros for 30 years, and now, he says, the parent company becomes the event’s largest global partner. Warner also vowed to try and expand the event’s audience in the U.S., says the executive, “nont onlhy focused on the tennis fan, but we also want the casual fan to come in.”

Warner, he adds, remains open to other rights acquisitions, and continues to monitor tournaments and leagues.

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