Report: MLB Not Close to Streaming Deal With Bally Sports; Future of Regional Sports Networks Looks Grim
When Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) soft-launched its regional sports network (RSN) streaming platform Bally Sports+ in June, company execs were initially encouraged by the results. The service retained 74% of those who signed up for its free trial, and the official launch was set for Sept. 26, in time for the start of the NBA and NHL seasons.
Bally Sports+ launched on time, but it did so with the streaming rights to just five MLB teams, far from a complete roster. Sinclair’s Diamond Sports, which operates Bally’s RSNs, has been negotiating with Major League Baseball for over a year, according to the Sports Business Journal (SBJ), and the two sides are no closer to an agreement.
SBJ asked MLB commissioner Rob Manfred if the league was dragging its feet on a rights agreement, but Manfred demurred.
“I don’t think of it as dragging our feet. I think of it as digging our feet in,” Manfred said
It was reported in September that Diamond Sports was in dire financial straits and that MLB was asking Sinclair to pay more for the streaming rights to the baseball teams that it already owned the broadcast rights for. Diamond believed that the agreements for those rights were already settled and appealed to the league to help it secure streaming rights with additional teams in order to help shore up its financial situation.
But according to Manfred, when he asked how additional MLB rights would solve Diamond’s money troubles, he did not consider the answers to be illuminating.
“We never received a coherent response to that, which our analysis suggested that what they were looking for from us was not going to solve their problems,” Manfred said. “Our reaction has been, why tie up additional rights in an entity that by its own admission has financial problems? We just think it’s a good business decision.”
From Manfred’s words, it sounds like Diamond needs baseball a lot more than baseball needs Diamond. Major League Baseball is already exploring ways to launch its in-market streaming option as early as 2023 to go along with its industry-leading MLB.TV out-of-market plan. Losing baseball altogether would be major blow to Diamond’s RSNs and Bally Sports+. Without having the large inventory associated with the 162-game baseball regular season and nothing to fill the summer months following the end of the NBA and NHL regular seasons, without ample MLB teams, the future of the pay-TV channels and direct-to-consumer streaming service becomes cloudy.
Some companies have already seen the writing on the wall with RSNs. FOX was offered the chance to buy back the RSNs it sold to Disney in 2018 at a big discount, but declined the opportunity. FOX ran those channels for more than two decades, so its unwillingness to take them back is a grim omen for such networks.
The problem as FOX saw it was that on their own, RSNs hold little value. FOX was able to boost the total valuation of its RSN package beyond $20 billion, but mostly because those networks were so often bundled with college football, the NFL, and FOX News.
It seems that the rest of the media industry is finding out what could happen to RSNs, as well. Diamond Sports is fast becoming a stone around Sinclair’s neck, and the company could begin offering steep discounts on its RSN holdings to aid it in getting out from under a reported $8.5 billion in debt.
Bally Sports+ is a direct-to-consumer streaming service that offers live games for those who want access to your local Bally Sports RSN without subscribing to a cable or satellite package.
The service has two plans: a monthly plan for $19.99 a month, or an annual plan for $189.99 per year ($15.83/mo pre-paid annually), after a 7-Day Free Trial.
In areas where fans have access to more than one Bally sports network, an optional bundle allows the addition of a second channel. The monthly total for two RSNs is $29.99/month.
In addition to NHL and NBA, there are five MLB teams available to stream: Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, and Tampa Bay Rays. Sinclair has yet to get approval from MLB to stream the rest of the teams that they own the traditional broadcast rights for.
The service is only intended for those who live in-market to their local teams. If you live out-of-market, you will need to subscribe to MLB.TV (MLB), NHL.TV via ESPN+ (NHL), or NBA League Pass (NBA).