Many baseball fans who have Dish or Sling TV may not be able to watch their team for the immediate future. The 21 Fox Sports regional networks (not owned by Fox any more; they’re in the process of being transferred from Disney to Sinclair, with a name change probably coming) were pulled off Dish and Sling TV at noon Eastern Friday, with the sides reportedly “far apart” in negotiations. YES (soon to be owned by the Yankees themselves, with Amazon and Sinclair as minority investors) was also pulled off of Sling; it wasn’t carried by Dish. The carriage agreement for the non-YES RSNs actually expired Sunday, but the sides signed a temporary extension at that point; however, that extension has now expired, and the RSN group (which is functioning as a holding group separate from Disney at this point) pulled their signal from Dish and Sling Friday, with their website saying they made that move after Dish declined an extension at the current terms. Here’s more on that from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:
Dish Network viewers do not have access to the Fox Sports-branded RSNs anymore after those channels were pulled from both Dish Network and Sling TV at 12:00pm ET on Friday. Additionally, no agreement appears to be on the horizon. A statement emailed from a Fox Sports Regional Networks spokesperson says, “The Fox RSNs offered to extend Dish and Sling under the current terms of our existing agreement, but Dish and Sling rejected our offer.”
Here’s a statement Dish sent along:
“DISH and Sling has offered the Fox Regional Sports Networks a short-term extension, in an effort to quickly negotiate a fair, long-term deal for our customers. The RSNs offered an extension that would put the new expiration date up against the 2020 Major League Baseball Opening Day. They want to use baseball fans as negotiation leverage, while continuing to get paid in the meantime for sports with lower viewership. Coming to a fair deal is in the interest of customers, not a nine-month extension that simply puts them in the middle again.”
And here’s a statement from the networks’ site:
As of 9:00am Pacific Time, Friday, July 26, DISH and Sling no longer carry any of the 21 FOX Sports Regional Networks. The FOX RSNs offered to extend DISH and Sling under the current terms of our existing agreement, but DISH and Sling rejected our offer. We know fans are looking forward to the broadcasts during the stretch run of baseball season, and we hope DISH and Sling act to return this programming to their customers.
As Ourand notes, this isn’t just about the price; it’s also about tier, as Dish wants to put some of these RSNs on premium tiers and the RSN group (run by Jeff Krolik, with Mike Angus handling carriage negotiations) doesn’t want that. Also, as per a report from Fox Business’ Charles Gasparino ahead of Sunday’s initial expiration, the RSN group was looking for a short-term extension that would then let Sinclair negotiate a longer-term deal once they take control of the networks (that’s expected in August, but the move still faces some regulatory scrutiny), but Dish wanted to try and lock in something longer-term.
This is a significant carriage dispute, especially considering that it’s coming in the middle of the MLB season and affecting some very popular teams. All five teams that led the way in average local ratings at the All-Star break (the Brewers, Cardinals, Twins, Indians and Reds) play on affected networks, as do three of the five with the largest ratings increases this season (the Padres, Twins and Reds). And this could affect quite a few viewers as well; as per estimates from The Athletic earlier this month, Dish has around 10 million subscribers and Sling has around 2 million. If this winds up being a protracted dispute, and if viewers don’t wind up switching to other carriers that do offer the RSNs, that could be further bad news for local MLB ratings (which were down four percent overall at the break).
It’s unclear at the moment exactly what this means for other Disney-owned properties like FX and NatGeo, which also had their contracts expire Sunday and which were also operating under a temporary extension since then. Those networks haven’t been pulled off Dish and Sling yet, but it isn’t apparent when their temporary extension ends. However, they are handling their negotiations separately from the RSN holding group (Disney president of media distribution Justin Connolly is leading those), and those negotiations aren’t necessarily affected by what happens with the RSNs. (A potential wild card when it comes to those negotiations is the upcoming ACC Network; there’s no Dish agreement to carry that network yet, but it isn’t clear if Disney is trying to work it in with a deal for FX and NatGeo or not.)
The Dish-RSN blackout is particularly interesting, though, as it’s affecting a whole lot of popular MLB teams, and viewers tend to be quite mad when they can’t watch their teams their preferred way. (There’s often backlash when games wind up on other services like YouTube, for example.) The question is if they’ll be mad enough to switch to another provider. If subscribers start leaving in droves, maybe that puts pressure on Dish to cut a deal, but if not all that many leave, maybe that adds pressure on the RSNs instead from declining ratings and lost per-subscriber fees. (And, of course, if this dispute really drags on, it could wind up affecting NBA and NHL teams and fans as well.) We’ll see what happens.