TV Answer Man, if Bally Sports goes bankrupt, and MLB TV takes over the games, could this end the ridiculous blackouts? For example, could I subscribe to MLB TV and watch my Dodgers where I live in the Los Angeles area? — Mel, Los Angeles.
Mel, the sudden crumbling of the regional sports networks industry has fans and game executives alike looking for answers. Bally Sports’ operating unit, Diamond Sports, may be headed for bankruptcy next month while Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns and operates three AT&T-named RSNs (and has a minority stake in Root Sports), said last week that it wants to exit the business and return the broadcast rights back to the teams/leagues.
It’s unclear if other regional sports networks are experiencing similar dire circumstances now but the Bally/AT&T developments are enough for some to predict that their demise could trigger some radical changes.
But could a Bally bankruptcy and/or a Warner Bros Discovery shutdown of the AT&T channels lead to the end of in-market blackouts on MLB TV?
The answer is yes and we know that because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said so.
“I think it’s necessary to have a centrally based solution to what’s a really serious problem and move us forward to our next stage of delivering games to fans, delivering them where they want to watch them, and without the kind of blackouts that we’ve had in the old model,” the commissioner said this month when asked about a contingency plan for a Bally bankruptcy.
Manfred has not commented yet on whether the league holds the same position for the AT&T RSNs if they return their TV rights. But it would seem likely unless another company stepped in to take over the broadcasts.
However, before you head to MLB TV to watch your home team, a few words of caution.
1. This only affects the Bally and AT&T RSNs. In the worst-case scenario — both Bally and Warner Bros. Discovery stopped broadcasting regional games — all other RSNs would still retain their regional rights which include in-market blackouts on MLB TV.
2. While Diamond Sports appears likely to declare bankruptcy, it also appears interested in continuing to run its 19 Bally Sports RSNs under new financial arrangements with its creditors (which include the teams and leagues). Manfred has said the league is prepared to take back their TV rights and do the broadcasts in-house if Diamond misses a single payment but that’s easier said than done. The league’s teams (and the league as a corporation) could lose a significant amount of money if Diamond exits entirely and the league must fund its own broadcasts. Despite the tough talk, Manfred may be inclined to seek a new arrangement with Diamond that keeps the rights fees flowing to the teams, albeit at a reduced rate.
Warner Bros. Discovery, which is now run by the cost-cutting CEO, David Zaslav, seems hell-bent to abandon the business entirely. But it’s too early to predict how that situation will play out.
This RSN crisis is a fast-moving one that seems to change daily and many questions remain unanswered such as whether it will affect every RSN and how would the NBA and NHL react to a Bally bankruptcy. But the TV Answer Man today will try to answer as many questions as possible so come back today for more reporting and analysis on this topic.
Until then, happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann