As much as the growing senescence of television and the American appetite for live sports now seem to be as complementary as the ingredients in a peanut butter squid sandwich, these two seemingly contradictory realities can coexist without canceling each other out. On the one hand, the RSN model, as we know it, is crumbling like a casserole in a noisy kitchen; on the other hand, local sports channels do not run the risk of disappearing completely. However, the question of who will own these distressed assets is a different story.
But for some discrepant cases that have become irrelevant after losing affiliation with the home team, the current one is RSNs they don’t go the way of the dusty pink gum strips that used to leave sugary residue on all their baseball cards.
RSNs are the primary delivery system for the leagues and teams that populate the channels, with regional networks accounting for nearly 85% of all networks MLB consumption, and almost 80% NHL Partial delivery. O NBA , which has a comparatively robust national cable presence, is somewhat less reliant on the local TV model, with RSNs serving about 45% of the league’s eyes during games.
In total, RSNs represent about 70% of the total linear TV audience for the three leagues, which is remarkable given the state of the traditional cable package. Over the past five years, about 34.4 million subscribers have opted for the package, and yet sports ratings continue to grow. At the very least, the RSN data seem to indicate that access to local sports teams plays a not insignificant role in the decisions of the pay-TV faithful, of which there were 56.8 million when the operators last published their subscriber numbers in midsummer.
The place at the bottom of the ravine where the insatiable coyote of consumer demand meets the freely falling anvil of capitalism is Diamond Sports Group . Make these two anvils. According to the terms of a decision delivery in August through the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, the owner of RSN Bally Sports must submit a restructuring plan to his creditors before the time expires on Saturday. A second anvil falls at midnight on Sunday, when Diamond’s older contract of carriage with Comcast and its 15 million video customers expires.
Second anvil first: The negotiations between the two sides are ongoing and are expected to continue as planned without any associated business interruptions. Comcast, which owns the NBC Universal suite of broadcast and cable channels and a group of NBC Sports-branded RSNs, is not taking the knucklehead approach. Also, the days when programmers made noise about the prospect of being accepted into a higher-priced set of optional sports again are deadlier than Diplodocus, so this isn’t necessarily a Charter vs. Disney replay.
The X on the road where both anvils should land – as long as they are not intercepted by the pointed head of the coyote – is where it gets interesting. The distribution depends on the content and vice versa; in other words, Diamond’s renewal negotiations with Comcast will be informed by the menu of live sports programs that the carrier is expected to deliver to its customers if it decides to resurface with the RSNs. If the terms of Diamond’s formal proposal to its creditors are not disclosed by Saturday (a big “if”, since the relevant documents may be sealed or redacted to absolute ambiguity), Comcast’s negotiating team has already been informed of the broader strokes.
Worth mentioning: The mysterious art of carriage trading is nothing new for Diamond’s CEO David Preschlack , whose 20-year stint at Disney included a good chunk of time leading ESPN’s sales and marketing team. Therefore, it is a safe bet that RS Ns will receive renewals with the No.1 cable operator before similar contracts are signed with Direc TV (next month) and Charter (first quarter of 2024).
At least some people tangentially connected with the diamond discussions believe that the company will cancel its distribution agreements with the 12 MLB clubs left after the Padres and Diamondbacks defections. Aside from the simple convenience of cutting about $800 million in rights fees in 2024 alone, the relief of his baseball obligations would give Diamond the freedom to sell his single-team/zero-team RSNs in Cleveland, Kansas City, Phoenix, and San Diego. Presumably, MLB could acquire these carefully used assets at a good price, which in turn would provide ready-made platforms for building an internal sales network.
Frequently break up controversial relationship with MLB, it would create its own logistical nightmares – giving up baseball means losing about 1,600 live broadcasts a year and leaves a hole in the schedule for a good four out of 12 months – but Diamond was already trying to shed a few other team affiliations this summer before the bankruptcy court ordered him to comply with his contractual agreements.
Meanwhile, Diamond has demonstrated his desire to stay in the NBA and NHL business, as the company continues to comply with the conditions imposed by the former, while making payments to teams in both leagues at the same time. More recently, diamond extended his contract with the Los Angeles Kings and signed his first checks of the 2023/24 season for the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans.
The future of Bally Sports’ RSNs should become much clearer in the coming days if Diamond proves his former superiors wrong. In an August 21 court filing, Sinclair mocked Diamond’s efforts to get out of a $8.2 Billion Hole – one that Diamond claims was at least partially excavated by Sinclair itself. Diamond’s exit from bankruptcy “is not in sight,” Sinclair said in the summer, but a bold recovery plan and a radical separation from baseball could put things in focus