With Comcast and Disney battling over Fox’s assets, one of the next questions over this battle is what will happen to their Fox Sports Net regional networks? Both Comcast and Disney have said they would divest the RSNs if the purchase of Fox falls under federal scrutiny.
When Disney first announced the agreement to purchase Fox’s assets, CEO Bob Iger said those Fox Sports Nets (over 20 in all) would be a “perfect complement” to the ESPN family of networks. The networks own local rights to MLB, NBA, and NHL teams, and also has agreements with various local college programs.
However, with sports rights fees growing exponentially and Fox also wanting to get out of the RSN business, what was once a cash cow for Rupert Murdoch and his beloved 21st Century Fox is now a much different animal.
Comcast already has its own cache of RSNs, but Disney has been relatively shut out after an aborted attempt in the 1990s.
So if Comcast or Disney is successful in purchasing Fox and decide to sell the RSNs, who would buy them? Perhaps the loser in the process could buy them, but that might be too simple of an answer.
Would CBS? They recently began its own over the top sports offering in CBS Sports HQ, but it does not have live sports and with the network embroiled in its own corporate battle, it might not be in the market to make a large purchase that could reach into the billions.
How about Turner? Its parent company, Time Warner was recently bought by AT&T in a sale that was hung up in the courts for more than a year. Turner could enter the regional sports network fray and add them to an already expansive list of properties including Bleacher Report, MLB, NCAA, NBA, UEFA Champions League, and several digital assets. It might make a nice fit, but there’s also the risk of the feds appealing last week’s ruling.
One dark horse could be Discovery, which is expanding its sports holdings in Europe. They already have European TV rights for the Olympics and just recently bought international rights for the PGA Tour. If Discovery wants to make a sports foothold in the U.S., what better way than to buy the Fox Sports Nets? Plus, Discovery is already well known by cable and satellite providers, so it could bundle Fox RSNs with its current portfolio, which includes Animal Planet, Discovery, TLC and Travel Channel.
But Ben Munson of FierceCable throws out another possibility – the potential of tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, or Google stepping in. All three companies have plenty of cash and each would love to expand their sports offerings. Amazon recently made a splash in the U.K. by winning the rights to 20 English Premier League games a season, and it already has NFL Thursday Night Football streaming rights.
There are many possibilities should the winning bidder of Fox decide to sell their RSNs, and a sale of those RSNs could well be without YES Network, should the New York Yankees decide to buy that back.
We still have a ways to go before we get to a sale of the Fox RSNs, but should either Comcast or Disney make that decision to divest them, either company has to be well aware there will be a line of suitors ready to pounce once an announcement is made.