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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

How Declining Subs For Regional Sports Networks Could Impact MLB Relocation And Expansion

In other words, MLB is at a tipping point. While other sports properties will be affected, no other sport leans as heavily into the lucrative revenues of RSNs as big-league baseball does. They can’t jump off the ship just yet, but in the coming years, dealing with the shift to streaming will become critical.

That plays into commissioner Rob Manfred’s plans around possible relocation and expansion. With large domestic markets gobbled up by existing franchises, the league is left with small or mid-market locations to work from.

That presents a problem given the extra weight needed for a healthy deal out of a regional sports network deal as a way to ensure steady annual revenue flow when the gate is more susceptible to dramatic swings: fans are new and not generational as other well-entrenched clubs with long histories.

As an example, the A’s have made the threat of moving to Las Vegas as a way to achieve funding for a new ballpark in Oakland at the Howard Terminal location. Irrespective of market saturation in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights, and Raiders, the designated market area (DMA) – a measure of market size for television – ranks just 39th in the country with just 743,220 TV households, according to the most recent measurement by Nielsen Media NLSN -1.4%. Traditional TV bundles would mitigate some of this, but a streaming deal in-market would see low returns given the DMA size.

And this tipping point affects expansion, as well. Markets such as Nashville (ranks 28th by DMA), Portland (ranks 22nd), and Charlotte (ranks 21st).

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 21, 2021 at 11:16 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: expansion, rsns

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   1. DL from MN Posted: September 21, 2021 at 03:46 PM (#6040751)
The league has to have a good idea of MLB.tv revenues from possible expansion locations.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 21, 2021 at 04:30 PM (#6040759)
This is why I've long said Vegas is not going to fly in MLB the way it has for the NHL or NFL. You need a region to draw eyeballs from, and there is nothing but desert around Vegas. Nashville (and Portland) make far more sense.

Now if the RSN model blows up, then all bets are off.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: September 21, 2021 at 05:07 PM (#6040764)
After being at the forefront of streaming, MLB seems to have done a poor job of adapting to the expansion of streaming. I suspect there was no easy, good solution after getting so deeply entrenched in RSNs (I don't have any brilliant ideas) but it's been obvious for at least a decade that MLB needed a better method of monetizing local streaming.

Traditional TV bundles would mitigate some of this, but a streaming deal in-market would see low returns given the DMA size.

This I don't get. Market size is market size. If the local market is too small for streaming, how is a RSN gonna be better? If MLB defined "local markets" as small geographic areas (say "Cubs/Sox = Cook County") than it would be obvious that the "regional market" would generally be much larger than "local" but that's not how they do it -- "local" MLB.tv streams are currently blacked out over large areas. The RSN and a local streaming option surely cover the same or very similar populations. In fact I assume the MLBtv blackout lines are drawn precisely to protect RSN rights -- if anything we get complaints here that some teams aren't available via either MLBtv or RSN in some areas.

Two reasons to locate in Vegas. First if the local government is willing to offer ridiculous incentives. Second if the gambling (err, sorry, gaming) revenues are higher. But I assume that, similar to streaming, that sports betting apps means it doesn't matter which sports-betting state you locate in. (Also I assume all the gambling-generated revenues go through MLB's central fund, not to individual teams.) Does the more daily nature of baseball make it a more attractive tourist option than other sports in LV?

Meanwhile, what's the problem we're trying to solve? In a season where TB is winning the ALE, Milw the NLC, the sad-sack White Sox the ALC, StL continues to succeed and Oak is in the playoff hunt, it's hard to argue that small-medium markets are struggling on the field. The threat to MLB, and it is a big one, is that a bankrupt RSN is not gonna pay off the 2nd half of the Dodgers' 25/$7.5B contract. But recent sales prices for teams and the Forbes valuations suggest even that isn't that big of an issue. It is obviously possible to keep an NFL franchise in Green Bay while that would still be impossible in baseball (I think), but the franchises in Oak and TB aren't struggling financially.
   4. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: September 21, 2021 at 05:33 PM (#6040770)
It is obviously possible to keep an NFL franchise in Green Bay while that would still be impossible in baseball (I think)


The Packers are sui generis thanks to their (grandfathered) ownership setup, which makes it impossible -- literally impossible -- for someone to buy the team and move it to another city. You'd have to somehow get a majority of the 5MM+ shares, owned by some 360,000 stockholders, most of whom would never sell at any price. (And, in fact, they couldn't if they wanted to: the Articles of Incorporation state that stockholders can't sell their shares to anyone, except back to the team for a fraction of the original price. I don't know if that would stand up in court, tho.)
   5. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: September 21, 2021 at 06:25 PM (#6040781)
So sad to see Bally having bought into the RSN model specifically to push gambling onto MLB viewers at just the time the RSN model is drying up. Such a shame.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: September 21, 2021 at 09:48 PM (#6040816)
#4: You could easily move the Packers when the team went bankrupt. It is the fully shared revenue model of the NFL that keeps the Packers profitable and successful on the field, not the Packers' ownership structure.
   7. DL from MN Posted: September 22, 2021 at 09:54 AM (#6040883)
MLB needed a better method of monetizing local streaming.


I have thought that bundling streaming subscriptions with partial season ticket sales would be a good idea.
   8. cardsfanboy Posted: September 22, 2021 at 10:11 AM (#6040893)
I have thought that bundling streaming subscriptions with partial season ticket sales would be a good idea.


That would be cool.

The blackout rules for mlb is probably starting to hurt them now, not a lot of course, but over the next decade if they don't make changes, they will start to feel the pain a bit financially.
   9. Karl from NY Posted: September 22, 2021 at 03:28 PM (#6041024)
#6: That, and that it's not a small market at all, despite how the NFL likes to try to depict "tiny Green Bay." Their real market is Milwaukee and the entire state of Wisconsin, which is perfectly sizable. They'd be perfectly profitable even with no revenue sharing.
   10. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 22, 2021 at 03:32 PM (#6041026)


I have thought that bundling streaming subscriptions with partial season ticket sales would be a good idea.


Good for consumers, but the big reason teams love the RSN model is that tons of non-baseball fans are subsidizing them. Without exclusivity, RSNs aren't going to pay as much to teams.
   11. DL from MN Posted: September 22, 2021 at 05:30 PM (#6041092)
tons of non-baseball fans are subsidizing them


Not anymore. The only people subscribing to real-time TV are sports fans. Everyone else cut the cord already. The sports fans are subsidizing all the other channels.
   12. Jay Seaver Posted: September 22, 2021 at 08:38 PM (#6041133)
The only people subscribing to real-time TV are sports fans.


Well, not just them - probably a ton of folks my parents' age who get their internet from the cable company and figure this is a lot easier than screwing with paying for multiple services, configuring a smart TV or Roku, figuring out which services they want, etc. I suspect there are still a lot of people who take their TV kind of passively as opposed to having a list of stuff they want to watch. I kind of also wonder how many folks are starting to look at the cost of Netflix and Hulu and Prime and all-the-pluses.

I do suspect that the cord-cutters are getting numerous enough that the cable companies and the teams tied to them via long-term contracts both between the teams and RSNs and RSNs and carriers are starting to freak out.
   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 22, 2021 at 08:54 PM (#6041137)

Not anymore. The only people subscribing to real-time TV are sports fans. Everyone else cut the cord already. The sports fans are subsidizing all the other channels.


Eh, there are still 70 million people that subscribe to cable. They're not all sports fans.
   14. DL from MN Posted: September 22, 2021 at 10:24 PM (#6041164)
Eh, there are still 70 million people that subscribe to cable. They're not all sports fans.


Maybe so, but what about next year when there are only 60 million subscribers? How about 3 years from now when that number is down to 40 million? That's the trendline.
   15. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 22, 2021 at 10:34 PM (#6041168)
Of course! The RSN model is in trouble. Just saying its premature to say only sports fans have cable. And with all the streaming options going up in price, breaking into too many different options, whose to say that cable or some other bundle option won't come along with a similar business model where non-sports fans are subsidizing sports? Or not! Maybe streaming will give us an a la carte model for good.

My point is that I hear often "why doesn't MLB just make their product more available for fans" and the answer is clearly that there is more money in making it exclusive for their cable partners, for now and the immediate future. Ten years from now? Who knows.

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