ESPN May Allow Other Outlets to Share WNBA Finals Broadcasts; Will Warner Bros. Discovery Reach Out? (2024)

The WNBA is seeing its surge in popularity from the 2023 season not only carry over but intensify this year. The arrivals of rookie phenoms like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese have people buzzing about the sport, and ESPN and ABC are hoping to see record-breaking ratings for the 2024 WNBA Finals no matter which teams end up making the championship round; Clark’s Indiana Fever and Reese’s Chicago Sky are currently fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot. The rise of interest in the WNBA may lead one to think that ESPN would guard its exclusivity for the Finals series, but we now have official word from company officials that that isn’t the case. Speaking on an episode of the “Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast last week, ESPN president of content Burke Magnus said that it wasn’t necessarily key for ESPN to have exclusivity with the WNBA Finals going forward, and Warner Bros. Discovery is a logical candidate to inquire about sharing the rights to the series.

Key Details:

  • The WNBA’s current rights deal with ESPN, Ion, and Prime Video expires following the 2024-25 NBA season.
  • Sharing Finals rights could help bring more viewers to other WNBA games on ESPN, and help grow the sport.
  • WBD needs to continue adding more sports to TNT if it loses NBA rights.

Magnus prefaced all talk of sharing finals rights by saying that renewing its association with the WNBA was crucial for ESPN. The league currently negotiates jointly with the NBA, though has expressed a willingness to seek deals on its own if it thinks it can generate higher revenues that way. But because the WNBA has a less-established fanbase than the NBA does, Magnus says he thinks differently about the need to carry the two leagues’ respective Finals series.

“We’re extremely bullish on it,” Magnus said on the podcast. “We’ve been there since day one of the WNBA, and we’re really proud of that. “[But] we see an upside in other broadcasters also being involved. Of course, we want the WNBA Finals. I’m sure that at some level that’s going to be a component of the deal. But if we don’t have them every single year because it means it is on other networks in a similar fashion, I think that’s actually a good thing for the ultimate continued growth and development and interest in the league.”

The WNBA’s current broadcasting contracts with ESPN, Prime Video, and Ion expire after the 2024-25 NBA season, the same time that the NBA’s deals are up with its partners. Like the NBA, the WNBA wants to at least double the value of its existing TV deals, which currently pay around $60 million per season.

How Would Sharing WNBA Finals Rights with WBD Help Both Companies?

ESPN May Allow Other Outlets to Share WNBA Finals Broadcasts; Will Warner Bros. Discovery Reach Out? (2)

One of the most logical partners for a shared WNBA Finals broadcasting schedule in the future would be Warner Bros. Discovery. A final word on the NBA’s next broadcast contracts has not yet been handed down, but all signs point to WBD losing its current package of NBA games to other NBC and Prime Video.

Gaining the rights to share the WNBA Finals would give WBD a new event to help justify TNT’s $3-per-customer carriage fee, at a time when women’s basketball is surging in popularity. Games could be streamed on Max simultaneously with their linear broadcast on TNT, TBS, or truTV, and that’s especially helpful considering the younger and more diverse audiences brought by the WNBA are more likely to watch live sports via streaming than linear TV.

On ESPN’s side of the equation, allowing another outlet to share WNBA Finals broadcasts could bring more attention to the sport overall, since viewers will be able to find its most important series in more places. Partnering with WBD specifically would allow ESPN to have its cake and eat it too since all sporting events from the cable channels of both Disney and WBD are destined for the Venu Sports joint venture streaming platform that’s due to launch this fall. ESPN is also planning to launch multiple other new streaming products in the next 12-18 months, so more attention for the WNBA is a definite plus for the network.

No that ESPN and Disney will get to pick who it shares WNBA Finals rights with if it comes to that, but in addition to the Venu Sports partnership, ESPN and WBD are already sharing College Football Playoff rights, as the worldwide leader in sports is set to start sublicensing early-round games to TNT starting this season.

There may well be multiple companies that want to share WNBA Finals rights with ESPN, which could make things more complicated for WBD if TNT wants to keep some sort of high-level basketball. But sharing those rights with WBD may serve ESPN’s goals most efficiently, and from WBD’s perspective, it needs all the sports inventory it can get if it’s about to say goodbye to the NBA.

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ESPN May Allow Other Outlets to Share WNBA Finals Broadcasts; Will Warner Bros. Discovery Reach Out? (2024)
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