Hey, Hon, Where’s Them Rabbit Ears?

The NBA has been hyping throwback looks for many of its teams for several years now. In cities where they are literally the only game in town, at least in terms of major professional sports, there’s an awful lot of attention and emotion paid to this sort of news.  One such example is Salt Lake City, where the Utah Jazz recently unveiled new threads that salute their now 50-year NBA history that traces back to their roots where the name Jazz was actually apropos.

And for many of those ensuing years the Jazz dominated local TV ratings when their games aired on a nascent independent TV station started up by the team’s first Utah owner, the effervescent and omnipresent Larry H. Miller  KJZZ resisted the siren’s lure of potential affiliations with upstart networks like FOX, UPN and the WB and retained its independence, with the Jazz rights more than enough to guarantee its local carriage and a plethora of syndicated TV shows to sustain the balance of its schedule.  As someone who once programmed a FOX-owned station against it, incapable of even being remotely competitive with it on game nights, I learned the reality of their appeal first-hand.

But such was not the case in most other markets, where the carriage of teen-appeal soaps, urban sitcoms and expolitative reality was forcing stations to eschew local sports rights and send teams into the world of regional sports networks.  And even in a market like Salt Lake City, where there was still a viable broadcast oultet, the potential of an entire channel being dedicated to sports was too much of a carrot to ignore.  So the Jazz, like most teams, moved the majority of their schedules from broadcast TV.

But this summer, just as the throwback uniforms were being announced, came this news item, ironically from longtime market standarbearer KSL’s Chandler Holt and Ben Anderson:

Utah Jazz fans can watch the team’s games next season free over the air on KJZZ TV. 

The Jazz announced their new broadcasting arrangement on Tuesday ahead of the NBA’s 2023-24 calendar which begins on July 1. Smith Entertainment Group, the parent company of the Jazz will launch SEG Media which plans to produce and broadcast the team’s games beginning in the 2023-24 season .“This new approach is one of the most important investments we have made since purchasing the team because it allows us to deliver Utah Jazz games to all 3.3 million plus Utahns,” Ryan Smith, chairman of Smith Entertainment Group and governor of the Jazz said in a release.

The Jazz are currently one of three NBA teamsthat are once again offering games on over-the-air TV.  The Phoenix Suns and Gray Television just launched a similar strategy with the even stronger and long-established independent KTVK-TV, part of a three-team approach by KTVK that will be joined by baseball’s National League champion Diamondbacks and the WNBA Mercury next summer.  The LA Clippers are in the second year of a strategy that parcels out 10 of their games from their Bally Sports RSN to Nexstar’s KTLA, effextively a trojan horse for a $179/year streaming service called Clippervision.  The Jazz are offering a streaming option as well for cord-cutters and cord-nevers.

And there will be a lot more teams apparently joining them next year.  Earlier this week ESPN’s Tim Bontemps dropped this otherwise innocuous note about the current state of affairs for the majroity of the league’s other teams and their RSN partner:

The NBA and Diamond Sports Group have agreed to a deal that should keep NBA games on Bally Sports RSNs through the remainder of the 2023-24 season.  The agreement gives the NBA and its teams some certainty over its game broadcasts for the current season, as half of the league’s 30 teams — the Atlanta HawksCharlotte HornetsCleveland CavaliersDallas MavericksDetroit PistonsIndiana PacersLA ClippersMiami HeatMilwaukee BucksMinnesota TimberwolvesMemphis GrizzliesNew Orleans PelicansOklahoma City ThunderOrlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs — have their local games aired on a Bally Sports regional sports network.  It also gives back games for Diamond Sports to license to an over-the-air station in a team’s home market.

But as the NBA pursues a new multi-billion dollar rights deal for its national windows, part and parcel of their strategy involves setting a common end date for all of its video rights, including local.  And I can confirm from an inside source, a veteran of more than 35 years of production with RSNs, that it has been internally revealed that Bally’s will indeed no longer be carrying local games beyond this season.

It is following the lead of several MLB teams, including the Diamondbacks, which seized upon the failure of Bally’s and Diamond Sports to make in-season payments to move their games to a league-controlled iteration of the RSN.  The Padres were the first to do in July.  Both teams coninued to offer these channels to the cable and satellite carriers that carried the Bally’s (nee FOX Sports) RSNs, and were able to retain the overwhelming majroity of their subscribers.  They also offered via MLB.com a streaming option for local games for the first time, at what has now become an almost standard $20/month price point.

But earlier this week MLB commssioner Rob Manfred revealed that the Padres, in the midst of a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs after a surprising run to the 2022 NLCS, were only able to get 18,000 sign-ups for the streaming option.  And as The New York Post’s always astute Andrew Marchand reported this week, that’s, to put it mildly, well below the level of windfall that perhaps may have been foreseen in local streaming:

Let’s say every customer paid the full-year one-time payment of $74.99 — that would be $1.35 million in revenue. The Padres were supposed to receive $60 million annually from Diamond on a contract that was set to run through 2032.

MLB reportedly covered 80 per cent of the shortfall in 2023, but moving forward no such policy has yet to be established.

You wanna guess why Juan Soto is trade bait?  Look no further.

So it sure looks like it is indeed broadcast TV that stands to benefit.  A back-to-the-future approach.  But one that continues to be embraced.  Scripps Sports, which operates dozens of local market affiliates was among those that announced another women’s sports bonanza.  Per THE ATHLETIC’s Meg Linehan:

The NWSL will reach more viewers in 2024 with its new broadcast deals with ESPN, CBS Sports, Prime Video and Scripps Sports, the league announced Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The NWSL agreed to four-year deals with each partner, who will show at least 20 games apiece on their platforms next season.
  • Fans will be able to stream regular-season matches on Friday nights on Prime Video and watch two prime-time matches on Saturdays on Scripps’ ION network.

And this came on the heels of this news from the increasingly sports-laden CW network, now operated by Nexstar, from VARIETY’s Joe Otterson:

WWE’s weekly NXT show is heading to The CW. NXT, which serves as a showcase for WWE’s developmental talent, currently airs on USA Network but will move to CW in October 2024 in a new five-year deal. A source close to the deal pegged the value of the deal to WWE at about $20 million-$25 million a year.  NXT is the latest live sports move that CW has made since the network was acquired by Nexstar. The CW also currently airs ACC football and basketball and LIV Golf, while programming like “Inside the NFL” and the NASCAR Xfinity series will be joining the lineup soon.

There’s no marquee events there, to be sure.  But, collectively, this is as seismic a shift back to broadcast TV as we saw in the early 80s when content bhegan to move to cable, first cable, and then, the earliest iterations of regional sports networks.  And bear in mind that the growth of cable itself was accelerated by the national carriage of local independent TV stations with heavy sports commitments.  TBS was once Superstation WTBS, the home of the Braves and Hawks.  WGN carried almost every local Chicago team, as did New York’s WOR with all of the New York and New Jersey franchises apart from football.  Boston’s WSBK had the Red Sox and Bruins.

So now we apparently are coming full circle.  And it sure looks like the majority of fans will prefer any option of something besides streaming, and in an increasingly cost-conscious money grab landscape are all the more inclined to consider the option that doesn’t involve a cable or satellite package.

Those rabbit ears, by the way, are between $9-$15 at Walmart or on Amazon.  It’s been a while, but as I recall they’re not all that hard to set up, kids.

At least this time you won’t need a set of pliers to tune in a station.


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