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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Sinclair’s Sports Channels Prepare Bankruptcy, Putting Team Payments at Risk

America’s largest owner of local sports channels is heading toward a complex $8.6 billion debt restructuring in bankruptcy court as it stakes its future on a new direct-to-consumer streaming service.

After leveraging up to buy regional sports networks from Walt Disney Co. in 2019, Diamond Sports Group LLC is suffering from a decline in cable-TV subscribers, spurring negotiations with creditors and major sports leagues about its viability as a going concern. The outcome will have serious implications for the $55 billion world of sports-media rights: the company’s channels showcase Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League games to fans from Detroit and Phoenix to San Diego.

With financial troubles mounting, the Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.-owned firm will likely skip $140 million in interest payments due mid-February, kickstarting a 30-day grace period, according to people familiar with the matter. A stark divide is emerging between would-be winners and losers: its $630 million first-lien loan is trading at 92 cents on the dollar, while nearly $5 billion of lower-ranked bonds change hands for under 10 cents — signaling a near-total wipeout for subordinated creditors.

How all this goes down matters. If Diamond, which operates under the Bally Sports brand, files for bankruptcy, it could potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting-rights revenue for the likes of MLB.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 25, 2023 at 04:05 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: regional sports networks, sinclair, television contracts

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 25, 2023 at 04:21 PM (#6114470)
It will be very interesting to see if the restructuring involves walking away from a bunch of these bad TV deals, or whether the teams renegotiate a lower fee.
   2. Cris E Posted: January 25, 2023 at 04:35 PM (#6114472)
The teams would probably prefer to renegotiate something with the cable providers just to maintain the toe-hold in the local contracts. Moving to a completely online based deal would mean a calamitous drop in revenue as all those non-baseball folks paying for MLB now would be free to stop. Even taking a 50% haircut might be preferable to making MLB completely optional and losing even more.

I'm sure someone working for the owners and MLB knows the numbers and there was always a plan for this, because there were ugly cord-cutting clouds on the horizon long before Sinclair started buying up everything in sight.
   3. DL from MN Posted: January 25, 2023 at 04:49 PM (#6114477)
Would the FTC still be concerned about Disney owning this content? The media landscape has changed a lot in a few years. If the debt is wiped out and ESPN assumed Sinclair's contracts is that viable?
   4. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 25, 2023 at 04:51 PM (#6114478)
There was a report recently that MLB was exploring taking this all in-house to offer one package to consumers, like MLS did. Not sure how that would work with non-Sinclair RSNs.
   5. The Yankee Clapper Posted: January 25, 2023 at 05:59 PM (#6114493)
If Sinclair defaults, the teams should be able to find another outlet, or develop their own regional sports network. Popular teams might even do better, but I doubt any team will take a huge hit on their local media rights.
   6. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: January 25, 2023 at 07:57 PM (#6114508)
the $55 billion world of sports-media rights

One day soon all of this money will just go POOF! It'll dissolve like sugar in tea.
   7. bookbook Posted: January 26, 2023 at 01:02 AM (#6114545)
It is a shame that this will be contained by our bankruptcy laws. If the evil that is Sinclair Broadcasting Group were curtailed, the world would becomes just that little bit better.
   8. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: January 26, 2023 at 10:40 AM (#6114568)
I can only hope this means it's not economically viable to gamificate baseball broadcasts.
   9. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: January 26, 2023 at 11:15 AM (#6114575)
I just reduced my cable TV footprint dramatically to just the 10 basic channels. The fact that I was losing the Twins and TWolves was a negative factor, but it was just too much a month (and anyway those two teams are just infuriating - better for my sanity to not watch).
   10. John Northey Posted: January 26, 2023 at 01:58 PM (#6114608)
As a Jays fan I figure my team is safe from this directly, but indirectly it'll hit everyone. The Jays are owned by the same corporation that owns their TV rights (Rogers Communications - owns Jays, Sportsnet, the Rogers Centre, biggest cable provider in Canada, one of the biggest cell phone companies in Canada (top 2), etc.).

Like many others I dumped cable awhile ago. For the Jays I just subscribe to Sportsnet online and have an app for watching it on the phone, the TV has that app included, etc. Net cost for Netflix/Disney/Prime/Crave/Baseball is less than I paid for cable alone in the past so it works out.
   11. DL from MN Posted: January 26, 2023 at 02:11 PM (#6114611)
Honestly I might be interested in viewing games a la carte. $2 for an individual game that I know I'll watch is a better deal for me than $20 a month but I miss 2/3 of the games.
   12. Cris E Posted: January 26, 2023 at 02:52 PM (#6114623)
According to this guy, TheDesk.net - Sinclair regional sports channels prepare bankruptcy filing

According to reports, Sinclair’s restructuring could see Major League Baseball (MLB) negotiating carriage rights with cable and satellite operators for the Bally Sports channels, while Sinclair operates the Bally Sports direct-to-consumer streaming service. Bloomberg said some league officials oppose this plan, and are considering a move that would reclaim broadcast rights to games aired on Bally Sports channels instead.

If MLB did reclaim those rights, it opens the door for the sports league to offer games once aired on Bally Sports channels to other broadcasters, either through a simulcast or an exclusive arrangement. Potential suitors could include Apple, Apple and Comcast’s NBC Universal; all three started offering a limited number of live baseball events last year.


So apparently the league didn't have a plan in place for this? Maybe not everyone was on board? Kind of late in the game to be sorting this out given how much is riding on the outcome. The league isn't going to be able to get uniform results when negotiating with a broad variety of markets, so some owners are going to be furious, but pulling the games back to a central online offering has got to make them less money. What to do, what to do...
   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 26, 2023 at 03:02 PM (#6114630)

So apparently the league didn't have a plan in place for this? Maybe not everyone was on board?


I thought the streaming rights were in legal limbo, I wasn't sure if it was resolved?
   14. Jay Seaver Posted: January 26, 2023 at 04:02 PM (#6114644)
Would it be on the league to have a plan to deal with this, or even to reclaim the rights? This would seem to be the individual teams' thing to deal with, although the scale of it might lead MLB to take on an advisory role. I do seem to recall something about Sinclair/Diamond/Bally perhaps having a separate deal with MLB to do a direct-streaming service that was gambling related using their local broadcast feeds, but I don't know if that ever came about.

Maybe the league would be involved if teams found themselves having to get something up and running by opening day - like, if negotiations break down in mid-March and ten teams find themselves without an RSN and with talent in limbo (say a play-by-play guy under contract to the network and not available to the team), MLB Network would have the facilities to get some sort of basic coverage up and running.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: January 26, 2023 at 04:24 PM (#6114649)
the company’s channels showcase Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League games to fans from Detroit and Phoenix to San Diego.

Meanwhile, the economic demise of baseball aside, that's an odd ending to that sentence, both grammatically and in the seemingly random choice of cities. And surely Bally has some deals for teams E of Detroit? (If I parse that literally, they broadcast to Det, Pheonix and, since I don't think there are any teams between Phoenix and SD, San Diego.)
   16. Cris E Posted: January 26, 2023 at 04:51 PM (#6114658)
I'd think the league would be worried about the weakness of huge income streams more than finding someone to do the games. Buying a video stream from the home team and getting a couple guys to do a covid special from their spare bedrooms gets you on the air. But the main income for some big payrolls is at stake (eg Angels, Padres, Rangers, Braves, etc) and it's not at all clear that contracts signed will be contracts honored once bankruptcy is complete. Do teams have to (or get to) renegotiate those? If MLB takes back the games can they be sold in ways that replace most of the money? What happens to a team with a Padres-sized payroll that suddenly gets a 20-40% crater in the runway? The player contracts are still good and you don't want the teams' laundry aired in bankruptcy court, so what do you do? You can't help with direct payments if it's half the teams. That's why I expected the owners to have talked this out among themselves at least a little bit.

Also, Bloomberg writing is ass and the editing is sporadic. Phoenix allll the way to San Diego is par for the course.
   17. DL from MN Posted: January 26, 2023 at 05:46 PM (#6114676)
If MLB takes back the games can they be sold in ways that replace most of the money?


I think so. Comcast and AT&T run regional sports networks. I assume they would have bid against Sinclair previously. If the FTC allowed Disney/ESPN to re-acquire the contracts, broadcast over cable and stream Hulu/ESPN+ it would be better for the league. That model could end local blackouts because Disney gets paid either way. I would be thrilled if my Disney bundle included Twins games.
   18. The Gary DiSarcina Fan Club (JAHV) Posted: January 27, 2023 at 12:09 PM (#6114771)
I admit to being fairly ignorant on the business side of things, but I imagine that this potentially has an impact on team revenue. On an NHL podcast they were discussing this because a decent number of NHL teams also have deals with Sinclair/Bally's. They noted that the bankruptcy would affect NBA and MLB teams in addition to the NHL. One of the hosts specifically mentioned the Angels and gave a figure of $131 million per year that the Angels get from Bally's for their regional broadcasting rights. That led me to speculate that perhaps Arte Moreno's course reversal on selling the team has less to do with "unfinished business" and more to do with "losing a bunch of value on potential bids because $131 million in annual revenue just became a questionable proposition." Is that reasonable speculation? Or am I misunderstanding the impact this could have on individual teams and their broadcasting contracts?
   19. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 27, 2023 at 12:39 PM (#6114775)
Travis Sawchik has his analysis with for free

MLB could potentially roll those local in-market games into its existing direct-to-consumer MLB.TV product, which already shows all the games but only for out-of-market fans. If Bally Sports were to fail to pay any of its rights fees, those rights could revert to the clubs.

SBJ reported that MLB executives believe they can gain control of the rights from the Bally-branded networks, as well as from Comcast and Warner.

Chambers will start his new role on Feb. 1.

But launching a direct-to-consumer operation can be expensive.

For instance, Disney predicts its direct-to-consumer offering of Disney+ won't be profitable until next year despite its large inventory of pre-existing intellectual property and more than 100 million subscribers.

Comcast reported it lost $2.5 billion on its Peacock streaming service in 2022 and projects to lose another $3 billion this year.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of going to a direct-to-consumer model is you have to compel consumers to actually subscribe - and keep them once they do. But this great unbundling of teams from local RSNs could be good for the consumer since it figures to force teams to put a better product on the field, court, and ice.
   20. Cris E Posted: January 27, 2023 at 12:51 PM (#6114777)
I don't think there's any way they could get $131m annually for just the Angels games if they aren't leveraging the local TV contract. There just aren't enough people willing to pay for game broadcasts, or if they are willing to spend that much they'll get a full MLB package and the money gets divided 30 ways. This is a huge deal.

And MLB already sold their network to Disney, so they don't have full control of their destiny there either.
   21. Mellow Mouse, Benevolent Space Tyrant Posted: January 27, 2023 at 01:04 PM (#6114782)
But this great unbundling of teams from local RSNs could be good for the consumer since it figures to force teams to put a better product on the field, court, and ice.


I bet not. I guess it depends on what we mean by product, but if we are talking quality of play it is zero-sum within a league (obviously), so the whole league can't improve the product that way. And past quality of play, what exactly do they think will make for a better streaming/TV product?
   22. DL from MN Posted: January 27, 2023 at 02:56 PM (#6114799)
I don't think there's any way they could get $131m annually for just the Angels games


Sell subscriptions for $10/month, get a big audience and sell a ton of advertising. Bundle streaming services with season tickets to increase revenue. Sell more "national" cable games - bring back the Superstations. There may not be $131M but there's plenty of money here.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: January 27, 2023 at 03:30 PM (#6114804)
I believe what Disney bought is BAMTech which is the platform side. MLB still owns MLBAM which is MLBtv, etc.

#19: But MLB already does DTC with MLBtv -- just about invented it and did it better than anybody (see BAMTech).

Remember, the Angels only get to keep half of the $131 M, the rest goes into the shared revenue pool. Even if they can no longer sell the local rights for $131 they will get some decent amount for them (say $100) and then we're talking a revenue drop of just $15 M per year. That's potentially one way MLB could handle the financial side of this, allow the affected teams to keep the same amount of revenue and contribute less (assuming they don't sell for more). So in my hypothetical, the Angels would still keep $65 and put only $35 into the pool. At least until this all gets sorted.
   24. The Duke Posted: January 27, 2023 at 11:15 PM (#6114842)
For those teams that rely on the RSNs this can't be good. Streaming (or direct to customer) won't be as lucrative as the RSN deals. In the RSN deals the RSNs are basically getting the cable guys to give them a bunch of money for their content and that money comes from the entire cable customer base. So sports (or baseball in this case) siphons off revenue from non baseball customers. Put another way, people who have/had cable always complained about paying xx per month when they only want 3-4 channels. That high fee was to support sports- who really wants discovery channel?

So now a team will have to turn to MLB which has to own the whole operation and deal with customers who sign up, leave, sign up, leave etc. there are very few streaming services that make money - Netflix does because of first mover advantage but they won't be for long.

So this is great for consumer but probably not so great for the teams if they have to go the mlb route. I pay for MLB - I'd love it if I could just buy a Cardinals package but I doubt they'll ever do that.

NFL has Sunday ticket but there are fewer games (by a lot) and more rabid fans.

I would assume that this is nothing but bad for teams that rely on the RSNs.
   25. Cris E Posted: January 28, 2023 at 01:00 PM (#6114873)
In the RSN deals the RSNs are basically getting the cable guys to give them a bunch of money for their content and that money comes from the entire cable customer base. So sports (or baseball in this case) siphons off revenue from non baseball customers. Put another way, people who have/had cable always complained about paying xx per month when they only want 3-4 channels.

This, this, this. The pie is smaller when lazy consumers are default opted-out rather than default opted-in. I would hate to be on the wrong side of all those 12 year deals when the storm hits, and it may be coming years earlier than people were planning.
   26. Greg Franklin Posted: February 03, 2023 at 07:01 PM (#6115648)
MLB Could Take Back Bally Sports’ Local TV Rights) (Michael McCarthy quotes an MLB executive)

"Our strong preference would be for the RSNs to be able to fulfill the agreements they signed with the clubs. However, we need to be prepared if the RSNs are unable to do so,” Noah Garden, MLB chief revenue officer, told Front Office Sports. “This is a situation we have been monitoring for a long time. We have been contingency planning to ensure that no matter what happens with the RSNs, fans will be able to continue watching their favorite teams in their local market.”


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