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Scripps looks to benefit from RSN fallout but isn’t in running for Pac-12

Scripps wants to use its national, local and digital channels to offer alternative for teams.

27 February 2023 Steve McCaskill
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  • Pac-12 has been linked with Apple partnership
  • Scripps believes RSN collapse could be an opportunity

US media firm Scripps believes it is well placed to capitalise on ongoing troubles in the regional sports network (RSN) space but SportsPro understands it is not in the running for a broadcast deal with the Pac-12.

Action Network’s college football insider Brett McMurphy had claimed Ion Television was a surprise contender for the conference’s media rights, but sources say the channel is not currently at the negotiating table.

The collegiate athletic conference currently has a US$250 million a season arrangement with Fox and ESPN, but the former has just entered into a major deal with the Big Ten, while Disney says it will be more selective about what rights it goes for moving forward.

CBS and Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) have also distanced themselves from a bid, while NBC is also involved in the Big Ten arrangement. Amazon, whose interest in college sports is well-known, could make an offer.

Apple has long been linked with a move for the Pac-12 rights, which are available from 2024, as a way of expanding its own portfolio but has yet to make a formal bid.

Although a partnership looks unlikely, a tie-up with Ion would give the Pac-12 a more conventional broadcast relationship and exposure on linear television. Despite a lack of sporting content, Ion is the 11th most-watched channel on American television – ahead of TNT and TBS, which are partners for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) respectively.

One thing that is clear, however, is that Ion’s parent company Scripps is keen to become a more significant player in the US sports broadcasting market.

Scripps, which has 61 local television stations in the US, set up a dedicated sports division late last year in a bid to show it was serious about expanding coverage. While The CW’s CBS-owned affiliates have eschewed coverage of LIV Golf, Scripps has broadcast the controversial breakaway series in a bid to demonstrate its commitment.

Chief executive Adam Symson told investors it had received interest from US major league teams affected by a collapse in the RSN market. Bally Sports operator Diamond Sports Group (DSG) is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy while WBD is reportedly shutting down its own RSNs.

Scripps believes it can offer teams stability combined with linear and digital reach.

“As we sit here today, witnessing the implosion of the RSN business model … Scripps Sports has been getting a very warm reception,” Symons told investors.

“Our ubiquitous over the air, pay-TV and connected TV reach through Ion and the Scripps Networks has immense appeal for leagues looking to build new and consistent franchise viewing events across the national footprint … the phone has already been ringing off the hook.”

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