For several weeks now, rumors and reports have swirled concerning Disney’s potential purchase of 21st Century Fox broadcast assets, including several TV channels (but not FS1, Fox News, or the flagship Fox station). On Tuesday, CNBC’s David Faber reported that the sides are “closing in on a deal” and that Fox’s regional sports networks would, in fact, be included.

Fox owns and operates about 20 RSNs across the country, including numerous Fox-branded channels and the New York-based YES Network. These networks claim rights to dozens of MLB, NHL, and NBA teams, as well as local college sports and assorted other properties. Though the RSNs are reportedly quite profitable, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reports that 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch has been lukewarm on them for a while thanks to rising rights fees and declining revenues.

So what does this mean? It’s hard to know with details so sparse, but if the deal goes through (which remains a big “if”), Disney will own a regional sports empire to buttress its ESPN properties, nearly 20 years after tabling plans for ESPN West. ESPN would control rights to dozens of teams and could also air, say, ESPN2 content on the RSNs to fill dead time, extend their reach, and save money on local programming.

ESPN could also potentially use the local broadcasts to fill out its forthcoming ESPN+ streaming service, perhaps offering streaming packages to fans in local markets without the need of a cable subscription.

Fox’s motivation for the reported sale seems a bit less clear. Even after Fox’s early-2000s failure to build Fox Sports Networks into a national brand, the RSNs were a cash cow for the company. If Fox doesn’t want profitable RSNs, what does that mean for FS1? It seems that either Fox is moving away from sports, or another shoe will soon drop.

Until more details emerge about this reported sale we can’t fully evaluate its impact. But one thing is entirely clear: if this deal is agreed to, finalized, and approved by the federal government, its impact will be truly seismic for both the sports world and the television industry as a whole.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Deon Hamner

    Makes sense to not want FS1 or two. Most of those folks are ESPN/Disney former employees. No need to bring them back. The RSN is a good look if they can catch them. Lot of sports rights deals and good coverage of various sports. Including Hockey.

  • ItsBlackjack115

    Get ready for even MORE localized “Embrace Debate” programming! If you thought NBC Sports RSNs adding such programs were bad…

  • Stuart L. Crosby

    I am not sure I like the idea of ESPN controlling FSN SOuth and Southeast.

  • kca13

    That would be absolutely horrible. If I have to watch my teams and the ACC on an ESPN network instead of Fox it would be horrible.

    • Deon Hamner

      Had to break it to you friend. ACC Network by ESPN is starting up next year. Those Fox regional channels are going bye bye when it comes to that coverage.

      • kca13

        You’re right, I forgot about that. I absolutely hate that we’ll be losing that and Raycom. Raycom is a staple and tradition in the ACC and the south.

        • The K

          Could it be possible ESPN & the new ACC network contract their services to Raycom? I hope so.

        • Deon Hamner

          Yeah they are. I come from the old Jefferson-Pilot days before Raycom. If they are smart, I hope they hire these folks.

  • BadgerBacker

    Next on FSN Wisconsin……. “Coverage of the Brewers will not be shown tonight so we can bring you the Red Sox and Yankees”

  • David Heller

    Having the RSNs and the local announcers could be a HUGE boost for the upcoming Over The Top service

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  • No to monopolies.

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