The E.W. Scripps Co. launched Scripps Sports in December with the intention of offering their local affiliates and Ion Television as potential alternatives to the existing regional sports network structure. Depending on how you view the value and viability of regional sports rights, they may have timed things perfectly.
The Berkshire Hathaway-backed media company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio is apparently fielding a lot of phone calls in the wake of the news that Warner Bros. Discovery is getting out of the RSN business and has set a March 31st deadline with teams to take their rights back.
E.W. Scripps CEO Adam Symson shared the news during Scripps’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Friday.
“As we sit here today witnessing the implosion of the RSN business model, it’s also why Scripps Sports has been getting a very warm reception in that marketplace. Our ubiquitous over-the-air, pay TV and connected TV reach through Ion and the Scripps Networks has immense appeal for leagues looking for both new and consistent franchise viewing events across a national footprint,” the CEO told investors, adding that “the phone has already been ringing off the hook.”
He also said that Scripps sees live sports as a driving force to increase the company’s linear TV offerings higher.
“We see the right live sports as an unparalleled opportunity to drive the value of our linear television streams even higher,” Symson said. “Live sports will draw young new audiences to our brand as fervent fans employ digital antennas to watch their favorite local team for free again.”
In terms of the franchises affected by Warner Bros. Discovery’s decision, Scripps owns Seattle’s KWPX, Pittsburgh’s WINP, Las Vegas’s KTNV and KMCC, Salt Lake City’s KSTU and KUPX, Houston’s KPXB, Portland’s KPXG, and four stations in Denver.
Scripps’ Ion was also floated on Friday as a potential suitor for the Pac-12’s media rights by The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy, though that report was disputed by other insiders. True or not, the CEO said that Ion’s value is that it can be divvied up depending on what kind of reach a team or league is looking for.
“The interesting thing about Ion is we not only control all of the programming decisions, we also control all of the affiliates,” Symson said. “And so we have the ability to bring sports onto our platform on the weekends, in prime, what every way we think makes sense for both the league’s benefit and for our benefit.”
The regional sports media market has been in upheaval in recent years but Scripps believes they can offer some kind of stability and reach that might just make some of the franchises in desperate need of a 2023 home look in their direction.
“What we’re bringing to the market is a new model that the leagues and the teams can get behind because they understand it’s about balancing both the revenue that they bring in as well as reach,” said Symson.