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Sinclair Declines to Share Bally Sports+ Subscriber Numbers, Encouraged by 70% Retention from Free Trial

Jeff Kotuby, Matt Tamanini

On Monday, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Diamond Sports released its third-quarter financial results. The subsidiary oversees Sinclair’s Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs) and their direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming service Bally Sports+. Though the company again declined to share early subscriber totals for the streamer which launched in full for the NBA and NHL seasons on Sept. 26, company executives did note that they were pleased with the progress they’ve seen in the early going.

“We have seen encouraging demand for the service despite relatively low product awareness in the marketplace,” Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley said on a call with analysts on Monday morning. “The conversion rate after the free trial period is strong at approximately 70%, consistent with what we saw after our June soft launch.”

This report is inline with what Sinclair’s chief revenue officer Rob Weisbord noted in the previous quarter. He said that 74% of customers who went through the seven-day free trial of the streamer’s soft launch retained their subscription when it moved to a paid plan. At the time of the soft launch, only five of the Bally Sports RSN markets had access to the DTC product and only baseball was in season.

With both the NBA and NHL gearing up when the service launched across all Bally Sports markets, there was likely increased attention and churn following the free trial, which drove the number down a bit.

During the investors’ call on Monday, Ripley denied that Sinclair was looking to offload Bally Sports to Major League Baseball, the NBA, and NHL as was reported in September. Instead, he said that the company had hired outside advisors who were engaging in all types of discussions with the leagues, including how to lower the rights fees as the broadcast and streaming industries continue to decline.

“There is no sale process,” he said, “but they’re talking to parties about deleveraging, strategic partnerships, and things of that nature.”

Following the second quarter, Sinclair executives noted that the time spent viewing games via Bally Sports+ was “significant” during the limited, MLB-only soft launch, and at least in some markets, Sinclair’s current offerings of NBA and NHL clubs are doing even better. Ripley noted that the streaming version of Bally Sports North, which covers the rights to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, have been particularly impressive.

“The Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves games have had over 23 million minutes streamed through the first month of the season, with average unique streamers per game routinely exceeding a 1.0 rating in the Minneapolis CMA,” he said. “These early data points not only indicate robust engagement, they underline our significant opportunity to generate revenue beyond DTC subscriptions as we continue to iterate the platform to include gamification elements, targeted ad capabilities, and e-commerce components.”

Ripley attributed the early strength of the service to a well-developed platform that Sinclair’s DTC team has put a lot of time, thought, and effort into.

“The strong early adoption of Bally Sports+ speaks to the quality of the product they have built, and that is reflected in the 4.5 average app store rating since full launch,” the CEO said.

While the DTC side of Bally Sports looks promising, the linear channels are in dire straits. Diamond Sports has been negotiating with Major League Baseball for well over a year and the two sides were no closer to an agreement in October. When Sports Business Journal asked MLB commissioner Rob Manfred if the league was dragging its feet on a rights agreement, Manfred offered a response that, admittedly, doesn’t sound very cooperative. “I don’t think of it as dragging our feet.” Manfred said. “I think of it as digging our feet in.” Not ideal language from one of the sports figures most critical to Bally Sports+’s success.

In more positive news, Sinclair and the Los Angeles Clippers reached an agreement to broadcast the team's games on Bally Sports SoCal. The pair cut the deal close to the buzzer (no pun intended) despite a 27-year working relationship.

Bally Sports+

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.

With the service, you can stream your local games from 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams.

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).


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