By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, opening day is this week and it seems like the Bally Sports situation gets more confusing with no answer at all. Will they do the games or not? Will MLB TV do all the games? Help! — Just A Fan, town withheld.

Well, Just A Fan, I can understand your frustration and confusion. The 2023 season of Major League Baseball is set to begin play this Thursday (March 30) and it remains unclear this morning if the Bally Sports regional sports networks will broadcast all games of all their teams. (Bally has the regional rights to 14 MLB teams.) Here’s what we know.

Diamond Sports, which runs the Bally RSNs, has declared bankruptcy to try to restructure its debt, and likely, its financial arrangements with NBA, NHL and MLB teams. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has signaled the league is prepared to take back Bally’s broadcast rights if it misses any payments to its teams. (The NBA and NHL seem inclined now to work with Bally to find a solution, in part because their seasons are nearly over.)

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The bankruptcy filing reveals that Diamond has already missed a payment to the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, Sports Business Journal reports that the bankruptcy case would likely complicate any MLB effort to seize the Diamondbacks’ rights because the payment was missed before the filing. That would suggest Bally’s Arizona broadcasts will proceed as normal, at least for now.

The real battleground, SBJ writes, comes Wednesday when Diamond faces a deadline to make its payment to the San Diego Padres. The company has already missed a payment, but it has until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to make it up, according to SBJ which adds that the company might do so because the talent-laden Padres are likely to generate higher ratings this season. That would make the channel more profitable.

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The publication adds that MLB is prepared to ask the bankruptcy court for the Padres’ rights if the payment is missed. If it’s not missed, the league will wait until Diamond misses a payment to another team. The New York Post has reported Diamond is wavering on whether to pay the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds because the channels for both teams are not profitable. It’s unclear when those payments are scheduled.

Considering the season is starting in a matter of days, you might think the league couldn’t possibly begin broadcasting games if Bally doesn’t. But SBJ writes that MLB plans to use freelance production crews if necessary. In addition, it has contacted pay TV operators such as DIRECTV and Comcast to be prepared for the league to provide the games (possible for free for awhile) rather than Bally. Of course, both scenarios could be more difficult to accomplish than it sounds.

So to mix sporting metaphors, the ball is in Diamond’s court. The beleaguered company has to decide if it wants to continue broadcasting games for all 14 MLB teams, knowing that if it misses a payment, it risks losing the rights for that team in court.

It’s put up or shut up time for Diamond and Bally Sports.

Bally’s 14 MLB teams are: Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Guardians, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels.

Hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann