It had been considered a rubber stamp under the Trump-led Federal Communications Commission, but in a sudden turn of events, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has expressed that he has “serious concerns” about Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of Tribune Media. Pai also said he would send the deal into a lengthy administrative process, which would in essence would kill the deal.
Back in May 2017, Sinclair announced it had an agreement to purchase Tribune’s television stations for almost $4 billion. Many of the Tribune stations are located in major markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and the purchase would raise Sinclair’s influence to almost three-quarters of the country.
The main concern about Sinclair was its political leanings and its “must-run” features that were considered to be pro-Trump. Earlier this year, a video that showed Sinclair anchors reading the same script, produced by former Deadspin staffer Timothy Burke, went viral:
While that was the larger focus to the story, a smaller part of it was the hopes of Sinclair to pick up local sports rights. New York’s WPIX carries Yankees and Mets games, WGN in Chicago airs the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox, and KTLA in Los Angeles has an agreement to simulcast 20 Dodgers games this season.
Sinclair was hoping not only to gather a large network of local stations, but also parlay that into a platform for sports programming. Sinclair co-operates Stadium, which replaced its American Sports Network and operates as an over the top streaming service while also being distributed on some of Sinclair’s local digital subchannels. It has agreements to air Conference USA, Mountain West, Patriot League, Southern Conference, and West Coast Conference games.
As the FCC starts to really review the Sinclair-Tribune deal with a fine-toothed comb, the realities are setting in that this mega-merger may not happen, in total contrast to the conventional wisdom over a year ago.