Luis Silberwasser is getting ready to till new terrain on a familiar piece of ground.
The veteran TV executive, who has in recent years become a top content executive in Spanish-language media, has been named chairman of the broader sports business for Warner Bros. Discovery, Variety reports. In that new role, Silberwasser, who worked for years at Discovery overseeing international programming, will become one of the most influential executives in sports media, playing a part in determining how sports favorites like NBA games, NHL matches and the annual March Madness college basketball tournament will be shown to viewers. He will also command a large passel of European sports rights that the company controls.
Silberwasser’s new role was reported previously by The New York Times. Lenny Daniels, president, Turner Sports, and Patrick Crumb, president, Regional Sports Networks, will report to him.
“I have known Luis for many years and have tremendous respect for how hard he works, how collaborative he approaches the job, and his ability to build very successful global businesses and brands,” said David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, in a statement. “I am thrilled to be working with him again, and believe Luis’ strong international business relationships, leadership track record and passion for delivering the best content and consumer experience make him the ideal leader to oversee the continued growth and expansion of our world-class sports business.
Silberwasser had been working as a senior programming executive at TelevisaUnivision. “We thank Luis for his leadership in the expansion of Univision Network’s audience lead, across the company’s portfolio of national broadcast and cable television networks,” said Wade Davis, the company’s CEO. “I want to personally wish him good luck in his new endeavors.”
Before its acquisition of WarnerMedia, Discovery was not a big player in U.S. sports. Overseas, however, it has become a growing powerhouse. Its Eurosports, based in France, holds European rights to broadcast the Olympics and is available in 54 countries. In February, Discovery entered talks that would combine Eurosport’s U.K. business with that of BT Sport in Britain and Ireland, potentially creating another overseas beachhead. In the U.S., sports is playing a bigger role in the company’s business as well. Warner Bros. Discovery has been trying to leverage sports to sell higher-priced packages of advertising to many of its clients.
Sports-media executives expect the newly merged company to grow steadily more aggressive in trying to win new rights for various sports, potentially creating global distribution deals that its rivals may be hard-pressed to match. Meanwhile, Warner’s Turner Sports has in recent years proven adept at building out new franchises around sports rights, such as NBA on TNT, which boasts Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley as analysts and has a chemistry that rival ESPN has yet to match. The company has also spent time developing a celebrity-golf franchise called “The Match” that does not hinge on winning rights from a major league.
Silberwasser will face challenges quickly. Early-bird talks with the NBA, whose rights pact with Turner and Disney is expected to lapse after the 2024-2025 season, could quickly spark in the next 12 months. Just as the NFL did with its recent rights talks with the major TV networks, the NBA is expected to seek significant hikes in annual fees. In the past, Discovery has not enjoyed a reputation for profligate spending, but it may have to cough up some dough if it wants to keep being a player in the sports arena.