Jerry Reinsdorf with the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy in 2010. Aug 27, 2010; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf holds the NBA championship trophy before the game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees at US Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Stadium is one of the more unusual sports networks out there in everything from history to distribution to ownership. The free advertising-supported streaming network was founded in 2017, long before FAST networks became as commonplace as they are now, and grew out of a merger between Silver Chalice’s Campus Insiders, Sinclair’s American Sports Network, and 120 Sports (a joint venture of Time Inc., MLB, the NHL, and Silver Chalice). Since then, Stadium has had both linear and digital distribution of its own, has brought in prominent figures like Shams Charania and Jeff Goodman, and has also provided content for the Bally Sports regional networks (until recently, majority-owned by Sinclair). But its ownership is now changing, with Eric Fisher of Front Office Sports reporting that Silver Chalice (owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owns the Chicago Bulls and White Sox) has taken majority control of Stadium over from Sinclair:

Fisher writes there that this is at least partly about the Diamond Sports (parent company of those Bally Sports RSNs) bankruptcy reorganization, and that large moves are expected under Reinsdorf’s control. He also raises that this comes ahead of the expiration of NBC Sports Chicago’s deals with Reinsdorf’s teams (and also the Chicago Blackhawks) next fall:

The equity move was precipitated in part by Sinclair’s own corporate issues, sources said. The company’s Diamond Sports Group, which owns and operates the Bally Sports regional sports networks, filed for bankruptcy protection in March and is continuing reorganization efforts.

Neither Silver Chalice nor Sinclair commented. 

But sources indicated further, large-scale moves are expected by Stadium in the new Reinsdorf-led structure. Those moves will be closely watched against the backdrop of the October 2024 expiration of the regional rights contract for the Bulls, White Sox, and Chicago Blackhawks with NBC Sports Chicago. 

(It should be noted that Reinsdorf owns 50 percent of NBC Sports Chicago as well. However, Blackhawks’ owner Rocky Wirtz also owns 25 percent of that network, and Comcast owns 25 percent through NBC Sports Group. So while exiting NBC Sports Chicago is less desirable for Reinsdorf than it would be if he had no ownership stake, there could be arguments for him moving his teams to a network where he has more ownership and control.)

It’s unclear exactly what large-scale moves are ahead for Stadium. Its current setup as a nationally-focused sports network primarily distributed over-the-top using a FAST model (although, unlike most FAST networks, it has that linear component as well) certainly doesn’t feel like an easy destination for games previously distributed through RSNs. But there is a lot of uncertainty about the overall future of the RSN model, especially amidst that Diamond bankruptcy and Warner Bros. Discovery looking to exit the RSN game. And there are unconventional moves being made with some content previously on RSNs, including MLS going to a league-wide, all-national paywalled streaming approach with Apple TV+ and the Phoenix Suns and Mercury looking to go from RSNs to broadcast TV and streaming platform Kiswe (although there’s legal action pending there). So while Stadium in its current form doesn’t seem like a logical destination for those rights post-2024, it can’t be ruled out, and “further large-scale moves” might make it a more natural fit.

There are ways majority control of Stadium could help Reinsdorf’s teams in their local rights deals even without games going there, though. For one, Stadium is headquartered in the United Center, where the Bulls (and Blackhawks) play, and the network has returned to largely basing their shows from there after going fully remote early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea of a new RSN for some or all of those teams sharing facilities (and perhaps also staffers) with Stadium makes some sense. There’s also the idea of Stadium providing non-game content for RSNs, which was bandied about quite a bit around Sinclair’s 2019 purchase of the former Fox RSNs, and has recently come to be in some ways with shows like The Rally. (Fisher notes that despite this ownership change, Stadium will continue to provide some content for the Bally RSNs.)

But beyond that, a move like this again raises the specter of Reinsdorf (seen at top in 2010 with the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy) starting his own RSN. And that could lead to sweeter NBC Sports Chicago offers to prevent that competition. So it will certainly be interesting to see what “large-scale moves” are ahead for Stadium, and what that means both for the network itself and in the larger context of the upcoming White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks rights negotiations.

[Front Office Sports; photo from Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.