Now that the Disney-Fox deal is official, the next step is to clear various regulatory hurdles. That includes being approved by the Feds. While the AT&T/Time Warner merger is being held up by the Department of Justice, it doesn’t mean the same will happen to Disney/Fox. Not all of Fox is being sold, so this might not fall under the same scrutiny that has befallen AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner.
Even so, for the Fox Sports Net channels across the country, what they look like now may not be what they look like a year from now if and when the deal is finally signed off by the Feds.
Disney/ESPN may seek to sell some of the FSNs to either NBC Sports or AT&T to squash any opposition to the deal. Disney covets the local FSNs so it won’t sell all of them, but perhaps five affiliates. Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand predicts that this will happen in 2018:
Distributors hate the idea of Disney owning ESPN plus 22 RSNs — the most expensive channels by far. Look for Disney to placate some of that opposition by selling RSNs to Comcast and AT&T in the markets where they own cable systems. That means Fox’s RSNs in Detroit, Minneapolis and Miami will move to Comcast, and its RSN in Dallas will go to AT&T.
Perhaps the Feds will put pressure on Disney to sell some of the Fox Sports Nets or even ESPN could make the decision itself. Should this happen, it means that NBC Sports could be the main beneficiary. It already has networks in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Gaining three or four more in major markets where the FSNs have deals for MLB, NBA and NHL would certainly expand NBC Sports’ portfolio. And there is precedence for this.
Comcast SportsNet took over for Fox in Chicago and San Francisco with great success and have been rebranded under the NBC Sports umbrella. However, in Houston, Comcast’s channel went by the wayside over a lack of distribution in the market. It eventually had to give way to AT&T which took over the rights to the Astros and Rockets.
But even so, there’s a long way to get to any sale process. The move of the FSNs to Disney will take at least a year to complete, so those markets that have Fox Sports Net won’t notice any changes for now. Announcers are likely to remain the same and teams which are locked into contracts with the FSN’s aren’t likely to move.
It will be intriguing to see how the FSNs will fit into ESPN’s game plan and how they will fall into the Worldwide Leader’s digital plans.