TV Answer Man, I liked your stories today on the regional sports networks. Do you know what the NBA will do if Bally Sports has a bankruptcy? Will they end blackouts? Will they still have games on TV? — Garry, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Gary, the crisis facing the regional sports networks (RSNs) 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.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been outspoken on the issue, repeatedly saying that the league is ready to take back Diamond’s broadcast rights and produce the games in-house if the company fails to deliver its payments to the league’s teams.
But what about the NBA? Bally has the regional TV rights to 16 of the 30 NBA teams. Is the roundball league ready to take them back and do the games itself?
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appears less concerned about the crisis than his baseball counterpart, at least in the short term.
“Short-term, I’m not all that concerned,” Silver told reporters recently, according to the Dallas Morning News. “It largely affects the regular season for the NBA in terms of distributing, delivering those games directly to our consumers. And if they were to indeed, you know, file for bankruptcy, there won’t be that much of the (2022/23) regular season left.”
Sports Business Journal reports that the NBA even renewed its streaming deal with Diamond’s Bally channels which allow them to offer the games on Bally Sports Plus, the direct-to-consumer service. However, the renewal is dependent upon Diamond making its regular payments to the teams, which is uncertain at best.
Silver did acknowledge that the league is prepared to broadcast the Bally games if necessary, although he did not offer specifics.
“For that period of time, we will have in place arrangements, if necessary, to continue to distribute those games to fans. So I think that’s what’s most important.”
But Silver seems more receptive than Manfred (at least in public statements) to work out a new arrangement with Diamond.
As for the NHL, league commissioner Gary Bettman is also offering hope that a solution can be found that will allow Diamond to continue broadcasting — and making its payments to the teams. (Bally has the regional rights to 12 NHL teams.)
“The impact to the league based on how much the Sinclair regionals pay is not very large relative to us approaching almost $6 billion in revenues,” Bettman told reporters recently. “However, for the clubs involved, obviously it will have a serious impact. We’re in regular touch with the people running the Sinclair regionals. Now they are suggesting that there isn’t an imminent financial crisis, that they’re trying to reorganize their business and move forward effectively, and that the clubs will continue to get paid and the games will continue to be distributed.”
Bettman added: ““But we are obviously monitoring it very closely, and exploring, at least theoretically what the options may be in the event the worst were to happen. It’s clear that the regional sports business in this era of cord cutting and cord severing is one that is facing some challenges with streaming and other alternatives. There will be an evolution of how games are distributed. And that’s something obviously, we’re very focused on. … Nothing is imminent, and the solution may not necessarily involve bankruptcy.”
This RSN crisis is a fast-moving one that seems to change daily and many questions remain unanswered. 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