By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, Rob Manfred says there won’t be blackouts if Bally Sports loses their rights and the league starts doing their games. Is that really likely? It’s hard to believe as a longtime fan. — Chuck, Vero Beach, Florida.

Chuck, the sudden financial crisis plaguing the regional sports networks industry has fans and game executives alike looking for answers. Bally Sports’ operating unit, Diamond Sports, has declared bankruptcy while Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns and operates three AT&T-named RSNs (and has a minority stake in Root Sports), said 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 such as Major League Baseball taking back the broadcast rights of any Bally channel that fails to make payments to its team. (Bally has already missed one payment, to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and could miss another this week to the San Diego Padres.)

But could the 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 if MLB becomes their principal broadcaster?

The answer is yes and we know that because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said so.

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“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 the Bally bankruptcy.

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However, there’s something in Manfred’s plan that confuses me. The league will want to persuade pay TV operators to continue to carry the Bally channels, perhaps not for the same fees they currently pay but something close to make it profitable for MLB. Sports Business Journal has written that the games could be offered on the cheap or even free in the short term because of the inconvenient timing. But eventually, the league will need carriage fees to make money.

But why would the pay TV services pay for in-market games if they are not blacked out on MLB TV? It’s the reason why RSN in-market games are blacked out now on MLB TV. You have to watch Bally or another RSN on a pay TV service to watch your hometown team’s games because you can’t get them any other way. (Barring the use of a VPN, of course.) It doesn’t make any sense to change this model unless Manfred and company are prepared to do without carriage fees or take a much smaller percentage of what the pay TV operators pay now.

This is one of those questions regarding RSNs that it appears only time will be able to answer. But this reporter is having trouble seeing the sense of ending blackouts and continuing carriage fees as usual.

Chuck, happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann