Call it what you want - a day of reckoning, judgement day, etc. - but the day we have all waited for is nearly here. This Friday, March 17th, the dominoes will begin to fall in the ongoing Bally Sports saga.
If you haven't been paying attention or can't keep up with the drama, let's quickly recap it for you . Diamond Sports Group (a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group) launched Bally Sports on March 31, 2021. This came as a direct result of the 2017 Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox. The U.S. Department of Justice ruled that as a result of that merger, Disney was in possession of a monopoly and would have to sell off the RSN rights to another organization. Enter Sinclair, which purchased the rights to 21 networks formally owned by Disney to the tune of $52.4 billion.
At this point, you're probably thinking, who in their right mind would spend $52.4 billion to acquire the rights to 21 networks as the cable TV model is crumbling? I know, right? It makes no sense.
Well, things did start off fine, but using hindsight, we can see what was on the horizon. And things took a turn in 2020. Forget that COVID shut down leagues. In 2020 alone, Bally Sports was dropped by FuboTV, Hulu Live, YouTube TV, and a host of cable providers.
Then, on February 15th of this year, Diamond Sports failed to make a $140 million interest payment. This initiated a 30-day window in which they could negotiate those payments before having to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Many in the industry saw this as a distinct possibility.
Just a few days ago, the New York Post broke an interesting companion story. The article provided some interesting details to the ongoing mess. There are four teams that Diamond Sports loses money on: the Arizona Diamondback, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, and (you guessed correctly) the Cleveland Guardians. As a result, Diamond Sports is expected to reject the contracts of these four clubs.
In Steps Cleveland's Knights in Shining Armor?
The article states baseball's potential plan to take over the local broadcasts of the aforementioned clubs and stream them for free in their respective markets. They will then negotiate with cable companies for lower contracts.
Of course, this doesn't answer a lot of follow-up questions, like, "Can I now watch the Guardians on MLB.TV if I live in the market?" Who knows; as it stands now there are still blackout rules in place.
At least for now this should be good news for Guardians fans, as it appears our broadcasts will continue uninterrupted, nor will you have to shell out $20/month for the Bally+ app.
As for the other teams under the Bally umbrella, the future remains to be seen. AT&T SportsNet also notified the four teams they televise that they are free to leave, bringing the total to 18 teams that are in some state of limbo.
In the past, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has alluded to the idea of the league taking back the broadcasting rights and distributing the revenues equally. We're still a ways off from that possibility but it's certainly something to keep an eye on. And though it's great fans will get their games, the Guardians are likely to miss out on the roughly $50 million Diamond Sports owed them for the 2023 season.
We should have a more concise picture in the coming days, but all things considered, it looks okay here in Northeast Ohio. But buckle up, hope, and pray that the club doesn't go out and sign a jersey ad deal with some organization like Elk & Elk in an effort to recoup the lost revenue.