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Do regional sports networks (RSNs) have a future? Just since the third quarter of 2019, many streaming providers have been content to let RSNs leave. Aside from DIRECTV STREAM, sports fans can’t stream the Bally Sports Networks at all. Is there any path to success for RSNs in a fragmented streaming world?

The answer to that question may be harder to find than you think.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the Bally Networks, is finding itself increasingly hard-pressed to get its content accepted on platforms. DirecTV and Comcast stepped in, but these are legacy providers in a world that’s increasingly going to streaming. Sinclair’s parent company, which is currently fairly deep in debt at last report, is undoubtedly eager to get back some of its lost partnerships.

One idea for saving the RSN came from analyst firm Needham & Company, whose principal, Ryan Vaughan, suggested a point that should be obvious in retrospect. When you’ve got a platform nobody’s watching, get some content people want to see. Vaughan noted that all Sinclair really needs to do was get some content that would make viewers interested in watching an RSN outside of the chunks of time where live games air. That would draw viewers in the off-hours, and make RSNs more palatable to service providers.

Great idea, but maybe just a bit too simple. As much a winner as that idea is, the problem is actually figuring out what that programming actually is. Sure, ESPN is awash in talk shows like “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn,” but how much sports chatter do fans really need? Between radio, podcasts, blogs, and TV sports networks, the market seems fairly saturated. RSNs narrow the scope even further by focusing on one area’s teams.

One executive with an RSN—who requested he remain anonymous—actually came right out told Sportico, “Nobody has come up with something that is a moneymaker outside of live sports. And I don’t see a program on the horizon that is going to get a distributor to say, ‘We can’t drop that network because they have that program.’”

That’s bad enough on its face, coming from an outside appraisal. It’s much worse coming from an insider. But perhaps there really is a way to open up the potential of an RSN. The solution we might propose comes right from the acronym itself.

Regional - While certainly, people tune in to an RSN to find their favorite pro sports, why limit yourself to just pro sports? Why not expand into the area’s collegiate scene and beyond? Beyond? Where beyond? How about high school sports? People tuning into an area’s television programming tend to appreciate local news. Statista found that local television news is the leading offline news source in the U.S., so why not focus harder on the “regional” to get viewers interested when the big team isn’t playing?

Sports - Remember the movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” When it was revealed that the dodgeball finals were running on ESPN 8—otherwise known as “The Ocho”—it made it pretty clear that ESPN needed to cover a whole lot of different sports to get anywhere near the amount of programming required to fill that many networks. What if RSNs started expanding their definition of sports? Area Tae Kwon Do championships, for one. We already saw ESPN get into cornhole (which is essentially just a kind of competitive beanbag toss) during the pandemic. Just a few months ago, ESPN briefly brought “The Ocho” to life. It didn’t last, of course, but it was wild while it lasted. Also remember that major sports leagues are extremely expensive to secure video rights. That wouldn’t be a problem for the Quad Cities Hopscotch Rodeo or whatever.

Network - Sportico recently referred to New York’s YES Network as a figure best placed to survive in the fundamental shift of RSNs, so let’s see what they’ve got. On the YES Network schedule, you’ll find some talk radio operations, some mini-documentaries, and similar matter in there. There’s something to be said for outside-the-game commentary, and the RSN might be the perfect place to air such content.

There are possibilities that could be explored here. Some of these may ultimately pay off. Some, or even all, may not. The only way to find out is to actually try them. What, after all, do the RSNs ultimately have to lose? They’re already losing carriage with the newer streaming platforms, so they might as well try whatever they can to get that back.

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