Are Regional Sports Networks (commonly referred to as “RSNs”) soon to be a thing of the past?
It’s a fair question in 2023.
In a matter of a few years, these channels that hold exclusive broadcasting rights to sporting events from popular leagues like Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) have gone from money makers to business breakers.
You probably have seen the recent headlines about the bankruptcy of Diamond, owner of Bally Sports RSNs. Additionally, Warner Bros. Discovery made waves with the decision to abandon its AT&T SportsNet RSNs.
In total, more than 50 professional sports teams are impacted by these changes. And you may be wondering what that means for you as a streaming or cable TV customer trying to watch these games.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what is happening in each of these scenarios and how it may impact your ability to watch your favorite team’s games in both in the near and long-term future.
What Does the Bally Sports Bankruptcy Mean for Streaming My Favorite Team?
Diamond Sports Group, which is the Sinclair subsidiary that controls the Bally Sports RSNs, filed for bankruptcy on March 14, 2023.
This group of networks accounts for the local broadcasts of 42 teams that play in the MLB, NBA and NHL.
With NBA and NHL seasons coming down the homestretch and the MLB season set to begin on March 30, this leaves fans of teams that call Bally Sports RSNs home wondering if they’ll still be able to see their favorite team’s games.
The short-term answer:
Most fans will be able to continue streaming Bally Sports RSNs as they have been prior to the bankruptcy announcement.
So, if you’re paying for the Bally Sports+ streaming service, watching via cable or satellite, or are subscribed to DIRECTV STREAM or fuboTV to stream in-market games, you should be able to continue do that in the short term.
The exception to that could be for fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Guardians.
According to a report from the New York Post, Bally Sports could forfeit broadcasting rights to these teams in this process. Major League Baseball is preparing to take back the broadcasting responsibilities for these teams and will provide free access to in-market broadcasts via the MLB.TV streaming service.
The long-term answer:
While the dust settles on the restructuring that could come with the bankruptcy proceedings, the impacted leagues are making plans for how they’ll broadcast games if Bally Sports is unable to fulfill its contractual obligations.
If the leagues regain control of these broadcasts, it’s worth noting that all three leagues already have streaming subscriptions available for out-of-market games.
So, it would make sense that they may try to integrate in-market game access into those services. (This was previously prohibited by the contracts the teams agreed to with Bally Sports.)
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced in March that the league has developed a “local media department” that is preparing for this scenario.
It’s not yet known how this would impact people who are paying for cable or a live TV streaming service that offers Bally Sports RSNs. It’s possible that a new channel could take its place, or the league could funnel you to their subscription services instead.
What Happens to Games From AT&T SportsNet?
While the Bally Sports saga is expected to play on for the next several months, we do have a more definitive answer on what will happen to games that were supposed to be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet RSNs.
Warner Bros. Discovery, which is the parent company of AT&T SportsNet RSNs that were responsible for the local broadcasts of 10 teams, announced that it was getting out of the RSN business effective the end of March.
In short, they’re willingly handing the broadcasting rights back to the teams and leagues impacted because the leadership group does not see a path to profitability in the RSN model.
The teams and leagues impacted are scrambling for solutions.
For example, it appears as though the Houston Rockets and Houston Astros may be attempting to join forces to purchase the rights to the AT&T SportsNet Southwest channel that broadcasts their games, according to the Sports Business Journal.
Warner Bros. Discovery has pledged to work with the leagues on keeping these channels and games on-air, but it remains unclear who ultimately will control the broadcasts.
For now, MLB is likely to step in and assure regions like Pittsburgh and Denver that they’ll continue to watch their local sports teams.
Final Thoughts: Why Is This Happening?
The RSN situation has been a headache for streamers for a number of years now.
You may be wondering how we got here. Here’s a quick summation from my view:
- RSNs paid millions upon millions of dollars for broadcasting rights to these games when cable and satellite ruled the entertainment sector.
- As live TV streaming became more popular, the number of eyeballs on cable decreased. That decreased the amount of money that RSNs could make on advertising.
- Live TV streaming services have a business model built on being cheaper than cable, so they are either unable or unwilling to pay the same RSN fees that cable companies paid.
- As a result, the channels are not available on many of the popular streaming services, such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV. And the services that do have them are charging exorbitant prices to customers who want to see them.
- Without access to viewers using popular streaming services listed above, the RSNs are not able to recoup the money they’ve paid for broadcasting rights due to a loss in advertising revenue.
At the end of the day, it’s the fans that are suffering the most through this process. And that stinks.
But, the good news is that the failure of these RSNs may actually lead to much-needed changes for in-market broadcasts for these games.
For example, this eventually could give Major League Baseball a chance to ensure that Braves fans are able to see games within the Atlanta market without having to pay for cable or $100 per month for a streaming service that has the “right” channel.
Are you impacted by this RSN debacle? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Clark.com community.