Some of the most interesting discussions around Sinclair’s 2019 acquisition of the former Fox Sports regional sports networks from Disney (the networks that now carry the Bally Sports name) have been about their plans to offer direct-to-consumer streaming packages. They brought up those plans as early as December 2020, then revealed more info throughout 2021, but there’s been a lot still up in the air, from conventional TV distributors’ reactions to streaming rights (especially in MLB, where they only currently have rights for five teams) to the date of the launch and the price point.
Well, after initial discussions of a “first half of 2022″ launch, Sinclair announced in February they’re planning for a Q2 soft launch (their Q2 runs April-June, so that’s coming quickly), with a full launch in the fall ahead of the next NBA and NHL seasons. And on their first-quarter earnings call Wednesday, they continued on with that timeline, but also revealed their current pricing plans. Here’s more on that (and on the wider company context) from Matt Tamanini of The Streamable:
The company announced that the plan was still to have a soft launch of the streamer this quarter and that it will cost $189.99 annually or $19.99 per month. Later during the company’s earnings call, CEO Chris Ripley referred to the upcoming service as “Bally Sports+.”
On Tuesday, Ripley said that the streaming service would launch with “an attractive price point as compared to other similar professional sports DTC offerings.”
…On their earnings call, Sinclair execs mentioned that the company was having “constructive dialogue” with other teams and leagues to bolster their rights package. However, due to the plan to have a soft launch in Q2 2022 and a wide launch in the fall, there is not necessarily an immediate time crunch to add more teams.
In the first three months of the year, Sinclair reported that total revenue decreased 14.8% year-over-year to $1.29 billion. The company’s total advertising revenue came in at $371 million, which was in line with the Q1 2021 period. In terms of media-specific revenue, Sinclair revealed $819 in the first quarter, which was higher than the $803 million guidance that was issued on Feb. 23. The company is forecasting $840 million in media revenue for the second quarter of 2022.
The price point is the most notable piece of this, as $20 a month is substantially less than the $23 a month floated repeatedly during previous discussions. This package still would have been appealing for some at $23 a month, especially compared to the current ways to get RSNs through cable, satellite, or virtual MVPD packages, but a $20 a month price tag may get more initial subscribers. (And it’s possible that the plan here is to get lots of subscribers first, then perhaps raise the price later; many streaming services have taken that approach.) The annual plan discount is also significant: $19.99 a month for 12 months would be $239.88, so this is $50 off. And that’s a way to perhaps lower the subscriber churn that’s always been an issue for RSNs, as they’re so focused on live games and have less draw out of teams’ seasons.
That churn is likely to become even more of an issue with a standalone OTT app, as unsubscribing from it won’t require changing a cable or satellite package. The RSNs that offer teams from different sports have an edge here, as there’s less of a pure offseason for them, but they’ll still face issues of subscriber loss from those who only care about one of their teams. So a hefty annual plan discount seems like a smart play to try and keep subscribers year-round.
Of course, the big issue still is markets and rights, especially in baseball (they’ve gained full NHL and NBA rights, but the latter at least are coming on a year-to-year basis). Sinclair’s owned-and-operated Bally Sports RSNs carry 14 MLB teams (not counting the Chicago Cubs, who are on Sinclair-owned Marquee but have a separate streaming approach there, and not counting the Yankees, who are on YES, where Sinclair only has a minority stake), but only five of those 14 have signed on for DTC streaming rights. That’s a problem considering the importance of MLB (and its 162 games a season) to the general RSN model. But maybe that “constructive dialogue” leads to more MLB teams coming on board, and maybe teams see this rollout go well and want in. At any rate, it makes sense that they’re only soft-launching in Q2 given their minimal MLB availability (and this soft launch will reportedly be focused on the five markets where they do have MLB rights), with the larger launch coming in the fall around their wider NBA and NHL rights.
The other thing worth noting from that Streamable piece is on the corporate financial side. Many have expressed financial skepticism around RSNs in general and around Sinclair’s RSNs in particular, as AA’s Ben Koo explored last October. And the 14.8 percent total revenue decrease year-over-year (to $1.29 billion) Sinclair posted for Q1 is not encouraging there. It should be noted that that’s for the whole company, though, not just the RSNs.
But with the RSNs in particular, they announced loan consolidation, new investments, and a new board (including chair Randy Freer, prominent for past work at Fox and Hulu) for Diamond Sports Group, the entity overseeing those RSNs. Interestingly enough, though, that piece has the line of “While DSG will no longer be considered part of the Sinclair balance sheet, the company maintains “nearly 100%” ownership of DSG.” So these RSNs are going to be a significant part of Sinclair’s future, and this OTT streaming plan will be a key part of the RSNs’ future. We’ll see how this rollout goes.