NBA Rights Situation “Sucks Right Now” For Warner Bros. Discovery Staffers, Charles Barkley Says

Charles Barkley, one of the mainstays of the long-venerated studio show Inside the NBA — which won yet another Sports Emmy last night — says the current media rights situation “sucks right now” for Warner Bros. Discovery staffers.

About 200 jobs could be lost, Barkley said in an interview Wednesday on SiriusXM, if WBD loses out to NBCUniversal. (Listen to a clip below.)

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“It just sucks right now for the people I work with,” Barkley said. “I’m worried about all the people I work with. I just turned 61. I’ve got enough money.”

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Sports Business Journal reported earlier Wednesday that a deal could be completed as soon as next week. WBD’s Turner Sports, which has carried NBA games for nearly four decades, could potentially lose out to NBCUniversal. Disney/ESPN and Amazon have reportedly reached terms with the NBA in a configuration that would resemble the recent divvying up of NFL rights between streaming and linear. Disney and NBCU are proposing to pay in the range of $2.5 billion to $2.8 billion on an average annual basis, with Amazon a notch lower, at a bit less than $2 billion. Those fees are between two and three times the level of the current deal, which expires in June 2025, and provide the latest evidence for the insatiable consumer and industry appetite for live sports.

If WBD gets aced out, Barkley said, “I don’t even look at it as getting fired. I look at it like, ‘Damn, I get to play more golf?!’ People ask me what I’m thinking right now and I tell them, ‘Please get this Western Conference Final over'” so that golf and fishing take center stage over the late-spring and summer.

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The NBA Hall of Famer turned more contemplative when asked about the future of the Inside on-air team, including lead anchor/ringmaster Ernie Johnson. Barkley, Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith were all re-upped in 2022, soon after the close of the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger. Even if a rival was inclined to scoop up the talent, it could be a challenge to replicate the anything-goes environment of linear TNT broadcasts. The network can stretch the post-game show into the wee hours of the night, giving the talent ample opportunity to riff — even if Barkley often complains he wants to call it a night.

“I know Ernie would not go anywhere else,” Barkley said of the man they call “The Godfather,” who also won an individual Sports Emmy last night. “Ernie’s almost 70 years old. He’s going to retire sooner than later. I don’t think he’d go to another network. And I don’t know what’s going to happen with Amazon or ESPN, or if we lose it to NBC. …. I just don’t know.”

As to whether he would consider alternate places to continue his NBA punditry, Barkley said, “I would listen before I made any decisions. Barkley has said in the past that, when the latest contracts were negotiated, he had it written into his deal that he will be “a free agent” if Turner loses the NBA rights.

Companies and the league are remaining buttoned-up about the status of the rights discussions. Given the intense spotlight on the rights process, WBD decided to address it at their upfront presentation to advertisers last week in New York. Luis Silberwasser, head of sports for WBD, said the company looks forward to having another season of NBA action in 2024-25 and hopefully “reaching an agreement that makes sense for all parties.”

Listen to some of the Barkley interview here:

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