By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, there’s been a lot of noise from Major League Baseball on Bally Sports and the regional sports networks. But what about the NBA? Don’t they have an opinion? They have the same issues, right? — Tony, Las Vegas.
Tony, you’re right. Major League Baseball has taken a decidedly adversarial approach to the regional sports network crisis, filing a emergency motion in the Diamond Sports bankruptcy court to retake its broadcast rights if the owner of 19 Bally Sports RSNs fail to make their team payments. (They have failed to make payments to five teams, but the issue won’t be resolved until a May 31 court hearing at the earliest.)
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has also been very outspoken on the future of RSNs, suggesting they have a bleak future and that the league might have to become a primary broadcaster in partnership with national TV companies. (Diamond now has the regional TV rights to 14 of the 30 MLB teams. Warner Bros. Discovery has the RSN rights to three teams. Sports Business Journal has reported that they are trying to negotiate the rights return to the teams.)
Diamond Sports also has the regional TV rights to 16 NBA teams, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been relatively quiet since the company declared bankruptcy last month, particularly compared to the repeated rhetoric from Manfred.
John Ourand, the highly respected and veteran SBJ reporter, recently flexed his muscles to persuade Silver to discuss the RSN situation on the popular Ourand and Marchand Sports Media podcast. Unlike his MLB counterpart, Silver still seems interested in downplaying the situation although he acknowledges it’s an ongoing issue that needs an imminent solution.
“There’s no doubt that…we need to reimagine these relationships,” Silver told Ourand. “There’s the specific issue in terms of Diamond with the debt they had and correcting that issue. Then in terms of the fundamentals of the business, everyone sees what’s happening in the television market. You’ve had a dramatic decline in the number of television homes. When you include the virtual distributors it’s not as low as many people think, there’s still 75 million homes receiving cable/satellite programming in the United States.”
Silver noting that 75 million homes still get cable and satellite, with a large majority of them also getting a RSN, stands in sharp contrast to Manfred’s remarks on the topic. The MLB Commissioner recently raised eyebrows by saying that only 15 percent of homes in the St. Louis Cardinals market have “access” to Cardinals games.
(Manfred’s stat is in dispute. Only 15 percent of homes in the Cardinals market may actually have the team’s games on their TV service, but close to 100 percent actually have ‘access’ to them. Bally Sports Midwest, which broadcasts the Cardinals games, are carried by FuboTV and DIRECTV Stream, accessible to anyone with Internet service. The channel is also on Charter’s Spectrum, the largest cable TV op in the market, and DIRECTV’s satellite service.)
It would appear that Silver is more inclined to work with Diamond than Manfred. As evidence, the league has sold Diamond the streaming rights for all 16 Bally Sports NBA teams so they can air on the Bally Sports Plus cord-cutter app. Only five MLB teams have agreed to allow Bally Sports Plus to carry their games.
Silver obviously is mindful of Diamond’s financial woes and the problems they cause for the league. But the NBA chief might be interested in making the best of a bad situation rather than trying to completely reinvent the model. He tells Ourand that the league wants to ensure that young people who might be less interested in traditional TV are able to watch NBA games through other mediums. That’s where the Bally Sports Plus app comes in.
It will be interesting to see how Manfred and Silver proceed in the coming months. But for now, the NBA and MLB seem to be on different paths.
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— Phillip Swann