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MLB sets up local media department amid RSN uncertainty

New division could handle local broadcasts for 17 teams.

2 March 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • DSG expected to file for bankruptcy
  • WBD reportedly shutting down AT&T SportsNet
  • MLB makes three senior hires with experience in producing and distributing games locally

Major League Baseball (MLB) is expanding its newly-formed local media department, signaling a significant step forward in taking control of its teams’ local media rights.

The move from MLB comes amid financial troubles for regionals sports network (RSN) operators Diamond Sports Group (DSG) and AT&T SportsNet. DSG, which operates Bally Sports, is expected to file for bankruptcy, while AT&T SportsNet owner Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) wants to shut down its RSN business and lacks sufficient cash to pay upcoming rights fees.

The pair have local rights deals with several MLB clubs and commissioner Rob Manfred had already stated last month that the league was prepared to step in and broadcast games should DSG enter bankruptcy. At the time, Manfred said close to US$1 billion in revenue was at risk, even before the AT&T SportsNet development was reported.

Amid the uncertain future for DSG and AT&T SportsNet, MLB has announced three senior hires for its local media department.

Doug Johnson has been brought in as senior vice president and executive producer of local media, Greg Pennell arrives as senior vice president of local media, and Kendall Burgess has been announced as vice president of local media technical operations.

The trio have decades of experience in producing and distributing MLB games locally, suggesting MLB is readying to take over and centralise local broadcasts, then redistribute them. 

“These new hires are an important step in our preparation to address the changing landscape of MLB game distribution in light of the increasing challenges and pressure facing regional sports networks,” said MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden.

“The decades of experience and expertise in game production and operations that Doug, Greg, and Kendall bring to Major League Baseball reinforces our commitment to deliver the highest quality game telecasts to our fans.”

The new arrivals come after DSG opted to miss a US$140 million debt payment last month in order to take advantage of a 30-day grace period, during which the Sinclair subsidiary is expected to file for bankruptcy.

DSG, through Bally Sports, has rights to local broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.

WBD’s RSNs, meanwhile, have deals with the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies. Teams reportedly have until 31st March to reach agreements to reclaim their media rights, with Chapter 7 bankruptcy on the table for the RSNs if the transfers do not materialise.

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