- MLB had offer to buy out rights for 14 franchises’ games rejected by Diamond
- Diamond to drop loss-making contracts with at least four teams
- MLB also negotiating with distributors amid WBD’s planned exit from RSN business
In January, it was reported that Diamond, which operates the 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs), was being prepared for bankruptcy by parent company Sinclair. Diamond holds the local broadcast rights to a host of US major league teams, including 14 MLB franchises.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred previously confirmed that the league would “step in” to air games if Diamond files for bankruptcy, and it now appears that the organisation is planning to do so for free.
After seeing a recent offer to buy the rights to the 14 franchises that Diamond covers rejected, The Post reports that MLB would take over the local broadcasts of the teams without a contract and stream them for free in their local markets while negotiations take place with cable companies for lower contracts. It added that the league would retain the same commentators that call games for their respective franchises when it takes over the broadcasts.
MLB is yet to finalise how fans in blacked-out markets will be able to watch the games without charge, according to the Post. The league currently offers live coverage of out-of-market games through the MLB.TV over-the-top (OTT) product, which the report says will still be offered to fans for around US$15 per month.
Diamond, which is expected to declare for bankruptcy this month, reportedly plans to use the bankruptcy proceedings to drop rights contracts with at least four franchises that it is losing money from. Among those teams are the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, according to the Post, which added that the latter could cost Diamond US$20 million per year in losses.
Sports Business Journal (SBJ) reports that the Diamondbacks have already failed to receive their latest payment due from Diamond. However, the US outlet also says that Diamond has informed teams and leagues that it will continue producing and carrying games on its RSNs, as well as making most of its rights fee payments.
According to the Post, Diamond plans to broadcast National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) games until the end of the season, including the opening round of the playoffs. However, the situation appears more pressing for MLB, which starts its 2023 season on 30th March.
Adding to the issue is Warner Bros Discovery’s (WBD) planned exit from the RSN business. The company has deals with ten franchises across four networks, including MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies, and has reportedly informed teams that they have until the end of the month to reclaim their rights held by the company.
According to SBJ, MLB executives have met with several distributors, such as Comcast, Charter and DirecTV, about carrying games featuring the Pirates and the Rockies. However, the league and the distributors are reportedly far apart in ongoing negotiations.
WBD’s shutting down of its RSNs is less likely to affect the Houston Astros, however, with SBJ reporting that the MLB team and the NBA’s Houston Rockets are in negotiations to take over the Texas city’s AT&T SportsNet-branded channel, which reportedly has ten years left in affiliation deals with Comcast, DirecTV and U-Verse.
The Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, own the majority of the Root Sports Northwest RSN and are expected to continue operating the channel despite WBD withdrawing its ownership interest, which SBJ reports to be around 30 per cent.