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Report: MLB rejects Bally Sports’ RSN streaming proposal

Diamond had asked for additional streaming rights to fix financial struggles.

2 February 2023 Josh Sim

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  • Diamond’s owner Sinclair preparing RSNs for bankruptcy
  • Media company wanted to plugin MLB’s ticketing and merchandise platforms

Talks between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Diamond Sports Group – which owns the 21 Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs) – centred on restructured local rights deals have broken down as the Sinclair subsidiary prepares for bankruptcy, according to the Sports Business Journal (SBJ).

The RSNs carry in-market live games involving local National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA) teams, with individual rights deals agreed with each respective franchise. Select regional college sports events are also aired on the networks.

A report from Bloomberg last month indicated that Sinclair is planning a major restructure of Diamond, which included plans to keep its rights contracts in place without making payments during the bankruptcy process. Sinclair was planning to offer teams, among other creditors, equity in the restructured business, with other proposals also being made for franchises in case of non-payment.

SBJ has now provided a new update on the situation, detailing how Diamond is hoping to find a strategic partner willing to help facilitate plans to exchange debt for equity, but has so far been unsuccessful. While the report says that MLB engaged in discussions with Diamond those have now ended due to a dispute over digital rights.

According to SBJ, Diamond asked to link to MLB’s ticketing and merchandise websites to its direct-to-consumer (DTC) Bally Sports+ platform, which would allow the media company to collect a fee for any customer who used the link to make a purchase. MLB is said to have taken a dim view of the proposal, with the request seen as beyond the scope of what a local broadcaster should expect.

Diamond also apparently asked the league for the ability to stream games in alternative ways, in order for it to sell packages covering just the weekends or the final innings of baseball games. However, MLB has never allowed other broadcast partners to do this, and reportedly consider the concept a non-starter given the financial peril that Diamond is in.

Speaking at CAA’s World Congress of Sports last October, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dismissed any thought of selling additional streaming rights to Diamond.

“We never received a coherent response to that, which our analysis suggested that what they were looking for from us was not going to solve their problems,” he said to SBJ. “Our reaction has been, why tie up additional rights in an entity that by its own admission has financial problems? We just think it’s a good business decision.”

SBJ’s report adds that RSNs are expected to make its initial rights payments to teams within the next month, implying that MLB franchises will not have to wait long to experience the aftershocks of Diamond’s looming collapse should the contracted fees not arrive.

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