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TNT might be losing the NBA, but adding College Football Playoffs

USA TODAY
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USA TODAY

Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell defends against Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum on Tuesday.

ATLANTA >> As the NBA is reportedly getting close to signing contracts with a trio of media outlets to air games for the next decade or so, TNT’s parent company is reportedly on the outside looking in. But as NBA basketball on the network is in doubt, TNT is adding College Football Playoff games starting this upcoming season.

TNT said today it will sublicense early rounds of the College Football Playoff from ESPN starting next season in a five-year deal. The playoff is expanding starting this coming season to 12 teams from four.

The network, which has never aired college football before, will broadcast two first-round playoff games during the 2024 and 2025 season. Starting in 2026, TNT will also air two quarterfinal round games each year through 2028.

ESPN will retain all other playoff games as well as the national title games and will manage sponsorships with the playoff, a news release said.

“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,” Luis Silberwasser, Chairman and CEO of TNT Sports, said in the news release. “TNT Sports aims to delight fans and drive maximum reach and engagement for these marquee games.”

This news comes as the NBA on TNT might soon be history after more than 35 years.

Disney, which owns ESPN, is reportedly in line to get the “A” block of NBA games at a cost of $2.6 billion to $2.8 billion a year, unnamed sources told the publication. That includes the NBA Finals, a conference final, weekly prime-time games and WNBA games. Amazon’s streaming service is lining up a deal worth $1.8 billion to $2 billion a year for what is called the ‘C’ block of games including the Emirates In-Season Tournament, the SoFi Play-In Tournament and first-round playoff games, Sports Business Journal reported.

TNT, under multiple owners, has had NBA rights going back to the 1980s. WBD had an exclusive negotiating window from mid-March to April 22 but didn’t offer enough money to the NBA’s satisfaction.

This allowed NBCUniversal to swoop in for what is dubbed the “B” block of games and reportedly offer around $2.4 billion a year, double what WBD has been paying the past decade. Either WBD and NBC would get two primetime windows a week, conference semifinals and a conference final.

NBCUniversal has an inherent advantage because it can air some NBA games on its free broadcast network NBC. WBD lacks a broadcast channel.

WBD has the option to “match” NBCUniversal’s offer once they finalize one with the NBA, but the Sports Business Journal said WBD Chief Executive David Zaslav could potentially go to court with NBC over how the NBA interprets a true “match” if it’s not merely a dollar amount.

If TNT loses the NBA, that would also mean the end of “Inside the NBA,” the storied sports talk show featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith and shot at WBD’s Midtown Turner Techwood campus.

Barkley has been cracking jokes about the possible end of “Inside the NBA’ on the show itself.

This past Sunday, after TNT aired Game 7 of the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, Johnson noted when NBA was going to announce season awards.

“Wait, 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon?” Barkley interjected. “We’re not doing that are we? Because I’m gonna be on LinkedIn!”

In March, ESPN signed a six-year deal valued at a reported $7.8 billion with the College Football Playoff through 2031-32. TNT did not say how much it paid for the sublicense, the first time these playoff games have aired on a station besides ESPN and affiliated Disney stations since the tournament began in 2014.

As for football, TNT’s sister station TBS aired college football from 1982 to 1992 and again from 2002 to 2006. TNT aired NFL football games from 1990 to 1997.

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