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How Will the Bally Sports Standoff End?

Jeff Kotuby

The ongoing Bally Sports saga took another turn late last night when it was revealed Sinclair and Dish Networks officially ended their stalemate without Bally Sports RSNs. This means yet another pay TV provider has dropped Sinclair’s rebranded RSNs, leaving sports fans across the country sans their favorite local teams.

To recap, Dish and Sinclair reached a multi-year deal that will keep Sinclair-owned CBS, FOX, NBC, and ABC affiliates and Tennis Channel on the satellite service. The two sides had previously agreed to multiple short-term extensions dating to late August as negotiations between the two sides have gone on. The deal includes 144 local stations across 86 markets, which will remain on Dish, as well as the Tennis Channel which will remain on Dish and Sling TV.

But Sinclair’s Bally Sports RSNs were not part of that deal, and now the only way to get them on a live TV streaming service is to sign up for DIRECTV Stream’s “Choice” Plan at $84.99 per month.

So just how is this Bally Sports saga going to end? As more and more providers drop the Bally Sports RSNs, and Sinclair continues its march towards a DTC streaming option (that is apparently miles away from happening) amidst ongoing financial issues, will the clock simply strike midnight on Sinclair before its dreams can be realized? If so, what happens to the RSNs? Will Sinclair sell them?

If Sinclair Keeps the Bally Sports RSNs

Should Sinclair continue to fight the good fight and keep their RSNs, they’ll have a tall mountain to climb. A majority of live TV streaming services have dropped the RSNs for a variety of reasons, leaving DIRECTV Stream as the only service left who carries them — and it’s on a premium tier. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban partnered with DIRECTV Stream to make that premium tier more accessible to Mavs fans — but this promotion is locked to the Dallas metro area and won't be available for everyone.

Sinclair also has the issue of getting streaming rights for the teams it currently owns the rights to, something that even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred called the company out on back in September. Manfred said that Sinclair does not have enough digital rights from enough clubs in order to have a viable direct-to-consumer product. “We’ve been very clear with them from the beginning that we see both those sets of rights as extraordinarily valuable to baseball,” Manfred said, “and we’re not just going to throw them in to help Sinclair out.”

Then, of course, there’s the rumor that Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair subsidiary that technically owns the Bally Sports RSNs, is nearing bankruptcy. “Fewer subs, it makes the business more difficult,” Manfred said. “I think that the negativity surrounding the RSNs has been increased exponentially as a result of the situation with the Sinclair (Broadcasting) subsidiary Diamond. Part of their problem is cord-cutting. The other part of their problem is there’s excessive leverage on that business.”

“If you think about what they paid for it, how much debt they have on it, I mean, you think it’s over 80%, it’s a huge number. And that leverage has produced headlines that are more negative. There are RSNs out there that aren’t thriving or growing, but they’re going to survive. Look, look, there are RSNs, YES, and NESN that have businesses that remain profitable, they’re affected by cord-cutting. But the fact of the matter is I think the negativity has been increased by the Diamond situation.”

The notoriously-difficult Sinclair Broadcasting Group will either have to go to market with a mediocre streaming option or start playing nice in order to boost its subscription numbers.

If Sinclair Sells the Bally Sports RSNs

Then, of course, there exists the option where Sinclair ultimately sells the RSNs — either by choice or because they’re flat out of cash. If that happens, what becomes of the stations? Where will they go?

The most obvious choice is that they’ll go back to the leagues themselves. This way the leagues can receive the revenue and no longer have to worry about broadcasting rights. But what if another entity joins in the fray and tries to nab up the rights?

The Streamable recently discussed the idea that sports apparel company Fanatics could get into the RSN game, as CEO Michael Rubin said he’s had “several” meetings in recent months to see if his company can jump into the RSN business. We could even see a company like DraftKings, which has partnered with multiple broadcasting entities like Sling TV over the past few months, scoop up the RSNs and integrate them into their betting platforms. Certain games already have live streaming and betting while within the app, so adding the full gamut of Bally Sports RSNs could present an interesting proposition.

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