Most sports fans probably have no idea who David Levy is, or how important he was in the world of sports media.
Levy, the former president of Turner, stepped down suddenly last month after 33 years with the company, a victim of a massive $85 billion merger between parent company Time Warner and AT&T.
Not only did Levy help put together popular shows like Inside the NBA and expand the network’s MLB and NBA rights (through 2021 and 2025, respectively), he also was instrumental in partnering with CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus on the unique broadcast rights for the NCAA Tournament, which offers fans the ability to watch every March Madness game.
Assuming Levy’s Turner Sports responsibilities is CNN president Jeff Zucker, an avid sports fan who started his career as an Olympics researcher at NBC in the late 1980s. Zucker will keep his role at CNN, and so far hasn’t outlined any changes that could be coming to Turner Sports, which includes TNT, TBS, and Bleacher Report.
During an NCAA Tournament media event in New York City this week, Zucker didn’t rule out becoming a player when NFL rights — which TNT lost following the 1997 season — are up for grabs after the 2022 season. But Zucker said his main focus was expanding Turner’s sports assets by pursuing rights deals with emerging sports (such as the Alliance of American Football league), and expanding events like last year’s The Match between golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (who reportedly have a three-year deal with Turner).
“We will continue to be a player in the premium sports area in the major sports that have packages. Obviously, there are not a ton of them that are available. There’s great expense. But we will be there," Zucker said, spotlighting the importance of B/R Live, Bleacher Report’s sports streaming service. “But the area of growth is in the newer, emerging sports that are not at that level and that require some business development.”
Despite Zucker’s bullish comments about Turner Sports being in “terrific shape,” changes are almost certainly coming. In fact, the first casualty of the merger appears to be the name Turner itself, as recent news releases from networks like TNT and TBS have referred to the channels as “divisions of WarnerMedia.”
There’s also a void left behind due to the friendships Levy formed with his on-air talent. Among Levy’s closest friends at the network is NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who headlines TNT’s influential Inside the NBA studio show. When Barkley was ready to retire from television back in 2015, Levy convinced the former Sixers star to re-sign through the 2024-25 season. But Barkley admitted earlier this week that with Levy out of the picture, he could envision himself retiring from television as soon as next year.
“It’s been a very difficult thing, to be honest with you,” Barkley told reporters at an NCAA Tournament event. “[Levy] was great for me, man. … I have to have complete faith from my boss, because I’m willing to go places other guys aren’t willing to go.”
Barkley said he’s only had a couple of conversations with Zucker, but doesn’t expect many day-to-day changes. Zucker also didn’t describe any changes, and said he had no plans to pull Barkley into appearances on CNN.
“Charles Barkley doesn’t need any more exposure,” Zucker joked.
Barkley, his Inside the NBA cohost Ernie Johnson, and several other TNT employees took Levy out to a farewell dinner last Sunday night at Del Frisco’s in New York City. Johnson said he and Levy were close.
“David was there 33 years, and I’ve been here 30. But at the end of the day, change is part of this business,” Johnson said. But he added, “That doesn’t change the fact that new eyeballs are watching."
Two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith has been with Turner since 1998, and also has a close friendship with Levy. But Smith was optimistic about the future of Inside the NBA under Zucker, comparing it with head coach Steve Kerr joining the Golden State Warriors in 2014.