Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair, which owns the 22 Fox regional sports networks, said this week that he’s “confident” that the sports nets will return to Dish.
The channels were removed last July when Dish could not reach a new carriage pact with Disney, which then owned them. (Disney sold the Fox-branded group to Sinclair soon thereafter.)
“We continue to have discussions with Dish for the carriage of the RSNs (regional sports networks) and remain confident that our two companies will eventually reach mutually acceptable carriage agreement,” Ripley said in a conference call following the company’s fourth quarter report release.
The optimistic forecast comes a week after Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen also sounded a relatively upbeat message about the dispute.
“We really like Sinclair the company,” Ergen said in the conference call which followed the release of the company’s fourth quarter report. “It was an unfortunate circumstance in that Sinclair did not own the regional sports (when) our contract was up.”
While Ergen noted that future negotiations would still be thorny, his suggestion a resolution is possible is in contrast to his stance last year when he expressed doubt the Fox regionals would ever return to Dish, and Sling, the company’s live streaming service.
Lucy Rutishhauser, Sinclair’s chief financial officer, also said she doesn’t think the Dish-Sinclair battle is permanent.
“We don’t believe Dish, the RSNs being dark on Dish is at a permanent state,” she said. “You’re really just looking at an elevated, temporary elevated leverage until they (the RSNs) come on.”
Ripley noted in his conference call that Sinclair normally includes the regional sports channels in carriage negotiations for the company’s local station group, a move that gives it more leverage to secure carriage for both units.
The current Dish-Sinclair agreement for the local stations is expected to expire this summer, but the companies could initiate talks earlier to discuss both the local stations and the regional sports channels.
Both sides might want an earlier settlement for the RSNs because opening-day baseball is less than a month away. The Fox regionals have the broadcast game rights to several MLB teams.
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— Phillip Swann