Why ESPN gave some college football games to TNT this year

ESPN had no intention of giving another network some College Football Playoff games. That is, until the network saw the offer on the table.
ESPN made a historic decision to sub-license College Football Playoff games to TNT after seeing the network's offer.
ESPN made a historic decision to sub-license College Football Playoff games to TNT after seeing the network's offer. / USA Today Sports | Imagn

ESPN didn't intend to share the expanded College Football Playoff with any other network right away, despite having the ability to do that in its contract, but when it saw the offer that came from TNT Sports, the Worldwide Leader said it was too good to resist.

ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro welcomed TNT's offer to sub-license College Football Playoff matchups, which he called "very attractive," not just for the network, but for the sport.

"We took a step back and asked ourselves, 'Was this better or worse for college football?'" Pitaro said, via Sports Business Journal. "And we ultimately decided that [WBD] putting their networks behind these games would be a net positive."

WBD refers to Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company of TNT Sports, among other high-profile media brands like HBO, DC Comics, CNN Worldwide, and others.

Pitaro noted that the TNT deal gives ESPN some breathing room financially.

“We recognize that we’re all operating in a challenging environment with cord-cutting and the competition for sports rights, so we decided to maintain some financial flexibility here,” he said.

TNT is paying nine figures every year for the right to air the games, according to media estimates, revenue that will help ESPN repay some of the $1.3 billion it is paying to the CFP annually for the life of the contract, through the 2031 football season.

ESPN originally bought the rights to air all CFP games in the new expanded playoff, and as part of the deal, the network earned the right to sell some of its games to other networks.

In an announcement in May, the network confirmed that TNT will broadcast two first-round College Football Playoff games in this postseason and the next, following the 2025 season.

TNT will also air two quarterfinal playoff games in addition to first-round games every postseason in 2026, 2027, and 2028.



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James Parks


James Parks is the founder and publisher of College Football HQ. He previously covered football for 247Sports and CBS Interactive. College Football HQ joined the Sports Illustrated Fannation Network in 2022.