Bally Sports has recently a hand in bringing Reds, Cavs and Blue Jackets broadcasts to viewers. The company’s recent bankruptcy news is raising questions about the availability of televised pro sports in Ohio and other markets.
With sports betting in Ohio up and running, many Ohio fans are wondering whether they’ll even be able to watch their favorite teams in a local market.
Facing a tough financial situation, what comes next for the company is uncertain. How might the potential outcomes affect fans’ ability to watch the games?
The Bally Sports bankruptcy situation
Diamond Sports Group, which owns 19 regional Bally Sports channels, announced on Feb. 15 that it would skip a $140 million debt payment to lenders due that day. A January report by Bloomberg said a chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring was likely, predicting Diamond would skip the payment.
Bally Sports is a Regional Sports Network (RSN) that produces live game broadcasts for 42 NFL, NBA, NHL and WNBA teams.
The company produces and airs the live-televised Reds, Cavaliers and Blue Jackets games. Diamond pays the teams millions of dollars annually for the media rights. The broadcasts are then distributed to cable, satellite and digital TV providers. Diamond Sports Group has over $8 billion in debt and lost $1.2 billion in the previous fiscal quarter.
What it means for pro sports on TV in Ohio
If Diamond can’t afford to pay teams for the production rights, or if a bankruptcy allows them to end contracts with teams, the whole system comes to a screeching halt. Luckily, at least the men’s leagues have said they have contingency plans to make the games available for viewers.
The NHL said in a statement Feb. 16 that it is monitoring the situation.
“We will be prepared to address whatever circumstances dictate to provide our fans with access to our games,” a spokesperson said.
However, where you watch the games or who will broadcast them could potentially change.
Commissioner says MLB is prepared for any outcome
But what about baseball? MLB has a full season coming up, and the revenue from airing the games is crucial to teams like the Cincinnati Reds. Thirteen other MLB teams could also be affected, but commissioner Rob Manfred says MLB is prepared to step in to make the games available for fans.
Manfred told Associated Press on Feb. 16: “I think you should assume that if Diamond doesn’t broadcast, we’ll be in a position to step in. Our goal would be to make games available not only within the traditional cable bundle but on the digital side, as well.”
Manfred also expressed discontent with RSN deals with cable companies that ban streaming of the games. For context, cable companies have lost millions of subscribers over the last few years. Allowing digital streaming could take away even more viewers from cable. Bally Sports began offering streaming via Bally+, a service that comes with a $19.99 monthly subscription fee for consumers.
In a Feb. 16 press conference, Manfred said if MLB had control, viewers would have more freedom to view the games how they’d like.
“I hope we get to the point where on the digital side, when you go to MLB.TV, you can buy whatever the heck you want. You can buy the out-of-market package. You can buy the local games, you can buy two sets of local games — whatever you want. I mean, that is, to me, the definition of what is going to be a valuable digital offering going forward.”
Diamond says Bally Sports is here to stay
However, Diamond expects to emerge from the restructuring, according to a statement made last week.
“Diamond Sports Group expects that its business will continue as usual, and it will keep broadcasting quality live sports productions for fans while it addresses its balance sheet,” the company said.
To continue business as usual, Diamond will have to find a way to keep the teams on board. A bankruptcy could give Diamond an opportunity to renegotiate deals with teams.
According to the Bloomberg report, a chapter 11 restructuring would likely mean lenders would take equity in the company in lieu of cash payments for some of the debt. Lenders would then sell their shares to recoup costs. Diamond would still be on the hook for some of the debt payments going forward.
No one can say for sure what the company will look like after restructuring. Diamond and its lenders are still discussing the details and have not announced any official plans.