TV Answer Man, I can’t understand why Charlie Ergen and Dish caved with Disney and ESPN when it hasn’t carried Bally Sports forever. If sports is so important to Dish and Sling, why haven’t they made an agreement with Bally Sports? Can you please explain this to me? — Steve, San Diego.
Steve, Dish and Disney on Monday reached an agreement to return the 17 Disney-owned channels (including ESPN) to the Dish and Sling TV lineups after a two-day carriage blackout.
The early end to the dispute surprised some observers, particularly longtime Dish subscribers who have become accustomed to the Charlie Ergen-led company to holdout for weeks or even months or years to get the best terms possible. For example, Dish and Sling TV have now been without the Bally Sports regional sports networks for 39 months. (The two sides failed again last year to negotiate a settlement.)
We know that live sports is important to attracting and keeping subscribers in today’s pay TV environment, which explains Dish’s eagerness to get ESPN back in the fold. But why ESPN, and not Bally Sports which has the regional sports rights to 16 NBA teams, 12 NHL teams and five MLB teams?
The answer is simple. ESPN, which has the national television rights to MLB to college football to the NFL to the NBA to the NHL, as well as numerous other leagues and events, is a ratings powerhouse. You can’t operate a successful pay TV service without it, particularly if you are Sling TV which has an easy cancellation policy.
It’s conceivable that Sling could have lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers if it didn’t have ESPN over the next several months. The live streamer has heavily promoted its ESPN carriage since its launch in January 2015 and it’s a major reason why it has 2.2 million subscribers.
Dish, which requires customers to sign two-year agreements when subscribing, might have been able to go without ESPN for a few months before seeing any major defections. But not Sling, and Dish’s management understood this.
In contrast, Bally Sports is not a national service; it’s available in 19 markets, which means many Dish and Sling TV subscribers aren’t missing a thing because they have never had it. That makes it easier for Dish to refrain from settling because the number of possible subscriber losses is smaller.
In addition, despite Bally’s dominance in the regional RSN category, its overall lineup is not nearly as dynamic as ESPN’s. And you can now subscribe directly to the Bally Sports Plus service, making carriage on a pay TV service even less important.
There are plenty of reasons why Dish and Sling need ESPN (and Disney) more than Bally Sports and Monday’s rapid settlement is exhibit A.
Steve, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann