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With Bally Sports Heading to Bankruptcy, Could Major League Baseball Games Return to Free, Broadcast Channels?

Matt Rainis, Matt Tamanini

Every baseball fan knows that for decades, the best place to find their local teams’ games has been on regional sports networks (RSNs). However, as the cable and satellite industries have routinely shed customers in recent years, many of these RSNs have struggled financially. Diamond Sports, the Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) subsidiary that runs the Bally Sports RSNs and their direct-to-consumer (DTC) service Bally Sports+, has found itself nearing bankruptcy, which has led to potential missed payments to teams and odd streaming ideas.

However, as RSNs struggle to stay afloat, other media companies are waiting in the wings to bring valuable sports rights back to their broadcast homes where they mostly originated. One of the companies looking to throw its hat into the ring is The E.W. Scripps Company, a news and broadcasting giant that owns and operates a plethora of local channels all across the United States. Scripps is looking to expand its reach to the realm of sports, and the faltering of Sinclair provides them with a great opportunity to get into the game.

The company is specifically looking to bring the massive inventory of [Major League Baseball] games to its channels. If Sinclair is forced to abandon its baseball rights, Scripps believes that it can acquire them and produce and broadcast the games in a way to make them profitable on advertising alone, because the company wouldn’t be forced to rely on carriage fees and subscriber totals to make money. This would also mean that the games could essentially be free for fans to watch, if they did so over the air (OTA).

“We see an opportunity … right now to plant the flag and say, let’s bring some of these sports rights back where 100% of the households in a market can see local sports teams,” Scripps executive Brian Lawlor said in an interview with TV News Check.

There would be contractual complications involved in the process that Scripps would need to overcome, most notably that since the company owns affiliates for various networks, it would not be allowed to broadcast games on those channels due to various other obligations. However, because Scripps often owns multiple channels in markets, it would be able to put games on other channels in the region, or even purchase additional channels or work with existing networks to make sure the games got on the air.

One can see the benefits of moving baseball games to broadcast, as the RSNs they currently reside on often only reach a percentage of local households who subscribe to the right cable, satellite, or live TV streaming service that has the ability to broadcast the channels. That means — as Lawlor points out — that none of these broadcasts are reaching their full viewing potential. This is especially exacerbated in an era where more and more people are dropping cable than ever, with as many as 40% of cable users claiming live sports are one of the only reasons they stay subscribed.

More people having access to baseball is a good thing, not only for baseball fans, but for advertisers looking to get eyes on their products and marketing. Given the 162-game baseball regular season, this would give any network broadcaster a substantial amount of inventory that comes with a pre-existing, dedicated fanbase to sell ads against.

Scripps isn’t the only company vying for control of these local baseball markets, as broadcasting company Gray Television is also looking to make a move, and MLB is reportedly considering taking the rights back in order to launch its own in-market streaming services to go along with its groundbreaking out-of-market platform MLB.TV.

With the tectonic plates of the media landscape continuing to shift, it will be interesting to see what the future of baseball broadcasting looks like, and who will end up being the one making all of the money off of it.

  • 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).

  • MLB.TV

    MLB.TV is the official streaming service of Major League Baseball. You can see every out-of-market game live or on demand, and choose home or away TV and radio feeds. The app allows fans to watch up to four games simultaneously on the same screen through their Multi-view feature.

    Users can choose to follow the entire league for “All Teams” ($149.99) plan, which is also available for “All Teams” ($24.99) a month, or you can stream one team’s out-of-market games for “Single Team” ($129.99).

    One major caveat about the service: Your local games may be blacked out through MLB.TV, so you may still need to watch through your local provider.

    If you’d like to go beyond the games, MLB.TV provides features, documentaries, and classic games.


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