When Sinclair Broadcasting bought 21 regional sports networks from Disney in 2019, plenty of people knew that it was going to be tough sledding. That certainly seemed to be the case when the company took a $4.23 billion charge last year “related mostly to the regional sports networks business” and posted a $3.21 billion loss for the third quarter alone. Given that they’re on the hook for $1.82 billion in rights fees in 2021, it’s not like Sinclair has time to spare when it comes to figuring out how to turn the RSNs into profitable entities.
Most have presumed that legalized gambling is the way forward for the RSNs (hence the Bally Sports rebranding). But it sounds like streaming could be a key part of that puzzle as well. According to the New York Post’s Josh Kosman, the media company is working with investment bank LionTree to raise more than $250 million for a streaming service that would broadcast games they have exclusive rights to.
Sinclair had previously announced its intentions to start a streaming service back in December after both Hulu and YouTube dropped the RSNs from their live-sports packages. In a clear case of trying to beat’em if you can’t join’em, Sinclair’s streaming service would directly challenge those vMVPD (virtual multichannel video programming distributor) services, putting them in the same league as ESPN+ as a must-have for fans who want to live-stream their favorite teams consistently.
According to the Post, Sinclair has been telling potential investors they’re looking to charge $23 a month to customers in specific markets who want to follow the teams whose regional rights are owned by Bally Sports networks. That could make for a sizable audience as the 19 remaining Bally Sports networks have the rights to broadcast regular-season games for a sizable number of MLB, NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and even a few NFL teams. We’re talking about franchises such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Phoenix Mercury, Columbus Crew, and many more.
There are also seven affiliate networks, such as Marquee Network and YES, though it’s unclear if their offerings would be included in the streaming service.
As for how the streaming service would work for fans who follow one of their teams but live outside the market, that could present a real challenge. Much like with NBA League Pass, fans can often be out of luck because the rights holders (like Sinclair) will charge cable and satellite companies to distribute games, which disrupts the ability of fans to stream outside of specific markets.
Still, according to the article, Sinclair is projecting 4.4 million streaming customers by 2027, which would be more than YouTube TV or Sling have at the moment. They also reportedly expect the streaming service to break even by 2024.
The Post notes that for the streaming service to work as intended, Sinclair still needs to negotiate with the NBA, MLB, and NHL to secure streaming rights. Those talks are ongoing and it appears that the media company’s investment work is part of that, meant to ensure these leagues that Sinclair will be able to follow through on their ambitions.