Earlier this year, Sinclair began to press forward with a direct to consumer streaming app. If it got off the ground, it would be a boon to consumers, even if it was more focused on gambling than we’d like. But those plans quickly ran into a snag when a pair of executives at distributors said they hadn’t approved Sinclair’s plans, and complications further arose when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred revealed that Sinclair didn’t even have most of the digital rights they were trying to sell.
Those fears were amplified this week during a Sinclair earnings call. On the call, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley revealed that despite 14 MLB teams calling Bally Sports RSNs their home, Sinclair owns the digital rights to just *four* of them.
Here’s Ripley’s full quote, via Seeking Alpha.
And then as it relates to the leagues that we have, for MLB, we have linear and authenticated streaming rights for all teams, and we have direct-to-consumer rights now for four teams, which are all the teams that we’ve renewed post acquisition. And our expectation there is that we will accumulate more direct-to-consumer rights as teams renew.
And then for NHL and NBA, we have always had linear authenticated streaming and DTC rights. And those are under current renewal discussions as a part of a larger deal, which includes market expansion, authenticated streaming and direct-to-consumer rights. So that’s where we stand from a rights perspective, and we do think we have critical mass in terms of rights to launch a product. And that’s what we intend to do.
Those four teams are the four that have gotten deals done over the last year-plus with Sinclair, who appear to be the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, and Kansas City Royals.
Ripley’s comments about the NBA and NHL rights are also interesting, because later in the call, he confirmed that an extension of those rights still hadn’t been completed. Previously, Ripley said that the beginning of each of those seasons was a “finish line” for those renewals.
Well, I think I would add to that, that the – we expect to get to the finish line with the NHL and NBA on those renewal discussions. So that’s over 30 teams there.
Surely, Adam Silver’s comments about the cable bundle being broken hasn’t helped those negotiations along.
Ripley also said Sinclair would be interested in bringing the digital rights from other RSNs, and that it “makes sense.”
Well, if you’re alluding to bringing in other groups like the Comcast RSNs or the AT&T RSNs, but I’ve always thought that consolidation of the rest of the industry makes sense. I mean the – we’re in a much better position than anyone else to move forward on direct-to-consumer, because we’ve been planning for this and for quite some time. It’s not something you can just close to switch on overnight. But I do think ultimately adding in rights from other groups like Comcast and AT&T makes sense. Whether you do that through transaction partnerships, contracts, consortiums, that is all, I think, things that will be contemplated in a stage two.
Sinclair is still aiming to launch the direct to consumer service in the first half of next year.