The CW Scouts More Sports Rights, Eyes Sunday Expansion And Potential Team-Ups With ESPN

The CW is looking to keep acquiring sports rights and is eyeing an expansion on Sundays as well as potential team-ups with other rights holders, President Dennis Miller said in an interview with Deadline.

In an upfronts briefing alongside Brad Schwartz, President of Entertainment, Miller said the pace of sports rights dealmaking has surprised “everyone, from Perry [Sook, CEO of parent company Nexstar] on down.” Nexstar closed its acquisition of 75% of The CW in 2022, with former 50-50 partners CBS and Warner Bros. (via their parents, Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery) each retaining 12.5% positions.

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After LIV Golf was positioned as the first CW sports property, college football and basketball, WWE NXT wrestling and the NASCAR Xfinity Series have followed, some already airing and some due in the coming months. The potency of live sports as a broadcast TV property in recent years has coincided with the meltdown of regional sports networks, which were built on the cable TV dual-revenue model, giving The CW more chances to swing deals. Nexstar’s expertise in broadcast, including live news, has also informed the sports strategy.

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Sundays are programmed with LIV tournaments part of the year, but Miller said that day is under consideration for a more regular sports component. “We’d like to fill in Sunday afternoons with quality, highly viewed kinds of sports,” he said. “We can’t compete, obviously, for the NFL as it’s been announced this week [by Netflix] or NBA, we won’t be in those conversations to date. But we’d like to find something for Sunday and we’d like to find a nice companion piece to Inside the NFL.”

While exclusive rights deals are always being considered, Miller said execs are in active discussions with ESPN and other companies about potentially grabbing linear broadcast rights to properties that live elsewhere. A template for that has emerged with sports like the MLS, which created a new streaming venture with Apple but then cut a linear deal with Fox. Miller said those arrangements could be game-changers for The CW and its affiliates, which had subsisted on a diet of 10 to 12 hours of originals every week.

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“A lot of the other players in sports have too much sports than they can actually play in broadcast,” Miller said. “There’s this tension between, ‘I could get a huge check from a streamer, but no one will be able to find it anywhere’ and you get full reach, everyone in the country, for your college or your particular sport or league here.” CW execs have been proposing to ESPN and others, “Hey, why don’t we carve off a set of games and events here that we can put on and give the full reach of broadcast TV. You’re going to see more partnerships like that.”

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