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Could Fanatics Take Over Regional Sports Networks?

Jeff Kotuby

Reports indicate a familiar, but unforeseen, name in sports could be a savior for struggling RSNs.

According to Sports Business Journal's John Ourand, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin said he’s had “several” meetings in recent months to see if his company can jump into the RSN business. “Rubin’s meetings with league, team, distribution, and network executives have been dormant for several weeks and nothing is imminent, as sources say Fanatics is concentrating on expanding other parts of its business before tackling media,” Ourand says the media talks could sprout up again next year.

While the move can be seen as random, it’s really not all that bizarre when you think about it. Fanatics’ main business is sports licensing, usually in the form of merchandising like hats, jerseys, and now trading cards. Would a branded regional sports network really be that different from a shirt or mug? Well, yes, but it’s at least close to their business plan — and it’s a familiar face that would be on the other end of these negotiations with the leagues and teams.

“Leagues view Fanatics as a direct-to-consumer company that already has relationships with the country’s top sports properties,” Ourand said. “Not to mention a database that has the information on more than 80 million fans — their favorite sports teams and what sports merchandise they are buying.” Fanatics could pretty logically pitch whatever RSNs they acquire to fans of those teams. According to SBJ, NBCUniversal and AT&T are looking to sell their RSNs, and Sinclair’s Bally Spots RSNs are reportedly on the table as well.

RSNs were once titanic profit generators for sports teams and leagues but now find themselves floundering, thanks in part to lesser distribution and the rise of sports streaming services. A recent report found that a dozen high-ranking sports business executives are concerned with the future of RSNs and are working with leagues, teams, and cable distributors to help find a new way to broadcast games, with many considering a direct-to-consumer streaming option. Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the media entity that owns the Bally Sports RSNs, is developing a DTC platform that is expected to launch in the first half of 2022 (if their subsidiary Diamond Sports Group doesn’t go under first, which is a distinct possibility according to SBJ.)

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