Was New MLB Exec Hired to Launch In-Market Streaming Service, End Relationship with Regional Sports Networks?
Major League Baseball executives seem determined to make the sport America’s pasttime once again. On Thursday, the league announced that it had hired former FOX and Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) executive Billy Chambers to be its first-ever Executive Vice President of Local Media.
This means that Chambers will be responsible for managing the broadcast rights to teams in their individual local markets. MLB simultaneously announced that Kenny Gersh, who is responsible for all of the league’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) business, is being promoted to Executive Vice President for Media and Business Development.
The moves strongly suggest that MLB wants to take a stronger hand in the way its games are produced and distributed to audiences. According to the Sports Business Journal's John Ourand, MLB is looking into creating a national DTC product that would combine all local in-market rights with Extra Innings, the league’s out-of-market games package.
Ourand also reports the league believes it will soon get its hands on the rights currently owned by Diamond Sports Group (DSG), which in turn is owned by SBG. DSG owns and operates Bally Sports’ collection of 21 regional sports networks (RSNs), and those RSNs currently carry the streaming rights to five MLB teams. The league has been actively seeking ways to reclaim those rights since negotiations with DSG for a wider streaming deal began to crumble in 2022. Diamond also attempted to sell itself and all of its streaming and linear rights to major sports leagues at the end of 2022, but those efforts came to naught.
The hiring of Chambers by the league is a definite sign that MLB is serious about ending its relationships with RSNs. Chambers was COO and CFO of the Bally Sports RSNs during his time at Sinclair, and he knows exactly what type of problems the networks are facing. His relationships with other Sinclair executives will likely make it easier for MLB to recoup the rights it is seeking from DSG, or so the league likely hopes.
MLB is also seeking to reclaim rights from Comcast (NBC Sports RSNs) and Warner Bros. Discovery (AT&T SportsNet). That means that if the league starts to get serious about an in-market streaming service, you’ll probably see games disappear from NBCSports branded RSNs, as well as potentially from Peacock and WBD’s TBS cable channel.
If MLB is successful with the in-market streaming service now rumored to be in the works, it would provide a blueprint for the other major sports leagues to use. It would finally break pay TV’s grip on sports broadcast rights, and allow leagues the freedom to seek their own streaming solutions, rather than having to rely on third-party media companies. This would presumably allow the league to retain more of the advertising dollars at play without having to go through a middleman.
For now, talk of a DTC service that combines all of MLB’s broadcast rights is just a rumor. But the hiring of Chambers and the promotion of Hersh seems to demonstrate that the league is ready to do more than just speculate about such a service; they’re ready to give it a real try.