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Sinclair CEO Says Pay-TV Services Won’t Take Risk Dropping Bally Sports After DTC Launch

Jeff Kotuby

Sinclair’s Bally Sports+, which will allow sports fans to stream in-market games without a cable or satellite subscription, is set to soft launch in June and at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit on Thursday CEO Chris Ripley said that the company already has its content strategy ready to go… mainly because it’s the same as Sinclair’s current regional sports network (RSN) strategy — lots of live sports.

But, one of the outstanding questions is whether or not it will impact the company’s relationship with other cable, satellite, and streaming services.

“When you take a look at what’s left of the [cable] bundle, it’s news and sports,” Ripley said. “I don’t believe that MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) will be willing to take the risk to go without some key product … The MVPDs very much want this content.”

Ripley notes that DIRECTV is an especially sports-focused enterprise and its customers would not take kindly to the RSNs being dropped. And while the exec might be right in the short term, looking into the future, his analysis might not hold up.

Sinclair just recently struck deals with Charter on the cable front, and their agreements with DIRECTV and Comcast don’t expire until late 2023 at the earliest, but when it comes time to renegotiate, if the pay-TV services are facing increased competition from Sinclair’s own sports app, it would not be a surprise if they push to either place the RSNs in a separate tier or only offer them as an add-on.

Of course, if in the meantime Bally Sports+ turns into a substantial revenue generator, that could mitigate potential pay-TV losses, but that seems like a tall task at this point.

A large portion of the app’s future success comes down to pricing. Currently, Sinclair says a subscription will cost $189.99 annually or $19.99 per month. Ripley believes that even with what may seem like a high price point, subscribing to the DTC service is going to provide a discount, especially if one were to subscribe annually. When discussing the pricing for Bally Sports+, the CEO likened it to the biggest players in the streaming game.

“We compare very favorably to what the leagues offer for their out-of-market [packages],” he said. “[And] I pay $20 a month for my Netflix subscription, and for $20 a month, you can have a Bally Sports+ subscription, and it’s cheaper per month if you sign up for annual.”

However, the value proposition to go annual only really applies in a small handful of markets. While Ripley claims that subscribers will pay “less than a dollar a game,” that only fits if they live in one of the five markets where Sinclair owns Major League Baseball streaming rights.

One of Sinclair’s greatest hurdles has been its ability (or lack thereof) to secure streaming rights for the teams to which it currently owns the broadcasting rights, especially when it comes to its baseball lineup. Sinclair currently owns the streaming rights for just five MLB teams, compared to 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL teams.

As of now, an annual plan only makes sense for sports fans in the five Bally Sports regions with multiple major franchises: Tampa Bay (Rays, Lightning, and Magic/Heat), Milwaukee (Brewers, Bucks), Miami (Marlins, Panthers, Heat), and Detroit (Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons). These markets are the only ones for which the calendar lines up; the baseball season gets underway while the push for the NBA and NHL playoffs begin. Then, when baseball season ends, the other two leagues are preparing to return.

In March, Sinclair COO Rob Weisbord said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about his company’s ability to secure streaming rights from additional MLB teams, but Sinclair hasn’t added any new teams — there have only been rumors of new deals with existing teams, including a potential direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming option with the Chicago Cubs.

Regardless, Ripley is confident that his product will succeed in the DTC market, in no small part because the CEO doesn’t see any major competition on the horizon.

“There are significant barriers to entry, not the least of which is that in order to effectively compete, you really do need to have both a linear pay-TV product and a direct-to-consumer product. So when they come in and just offer DTC, they really can’t compete directly with us, nor have they,” Ripley said. “We’re in a relatively uncompetitive environment today where we’ve renewed every team that’s come up on favorable terms. That may not continue forever, but I actually think I look forward to the day when the big streamers are really ready to jump in with two feet because I think that will open up opportunities for [us].”

Bally Sports App

Bally Sports App is a video streaming service that offers live games and stats to those who get Bally Sports RSNs through your cable, satellite or streaming package.

If you want to stream live games on Bally Sports App without a cable or streaming subscription, you will need a subscription to DIRECTV STREAM, which is the only Live TV Streaming Service with Bally Sports RSNs.

Unfortunately, right now there is no way to sign-up for Bally Sports App without a cable, satellite, or streaming subscription, so you will have to hope someone in your family does. The company has plans to launch the ability to sign-up direct-to-consumer in Summer 2022 with five MLB teams (Rays, Brewers, Marlins, Royals, and Tigers).

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