This Diamond’s Most Definitely In The Rough

When sports news is made on the field, there are often happy endings and surprise victories.

But when you’re bankrupt with few options besides a hail mary, the results are often much more sobering.  Trust me, I know.

And so do the executives at Diamond Sports, who today head for a day of recognizing fresh off this sobering rebuke which the NEW YORK POST’s Josh Korman dutifully reported on:

Major League Baseball rejected a proposed roughly $150 million lifeline extended by Amazon to the nation’s largest regional sports network as it languishes in bankruptcy, The Post has learned.

Diamond Sports, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, filed for Chapter 11 protection last March as the landscape for RSNs continued to suffer a seismic shift because of cord-cutting and the subsequent loss of advertising revenue, as The Post previously reported.

Amazon attempted to come to Diamond’s rescue last month by offering to invest roughly $150 million in the company and take over streaming broadcasts for the 11 baseball teams it carries, which include the World Series champs Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, a source close to the situation told The Post.

However, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called foul on the proposal ahead of a bankruptcy hearing slated for Wednesday, the insider said.

“They rejected it because Amazon wanted a streaming deal for more than one year,”  the source told The Post.

Not that you have to worry about Amazon.  They’ve already proven they can more than handle the load with live sports, with the double-digit audience increases they saw with Thursday Night Football.  And indeed, as Marchand reported, MLB is more than open to doing business with them as well.  But it won’t be at that number; according to Nate Black, a fellow media savant, the value of the rights to the MLB teams that Bally’s currently has is in the vicinity of $885M a year; the Rangers alone are worth $100 million.

And MLB has more than proven it can provide alternatives to the RSN experience on their own.  During 2023, both the Padres and Diamondbacks moved from lower priority Bally’s-owned regionals to team-owned entities, seamlessly moving on-air talent and many graphics as well as channel position on MVPDs.  And, with the help of some more than capable providers willing to educate them on details such as Nielsen ratings, with little loss of audience or reach.   Indeed, the Diamondbacks have expanded their footprint to now include a potent independent TV station owned by Gray Television to provide a select number of games over the air, the way it used to be a generation ago.

That model has been echoed by several other NBA and NHL teams that have been Bally’s partners.  Just last week, the New Orleans Pelicans joined the list of those returning at least in part to over-the-air, a list that also includes the Utah Jazz, Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.  This 2019 road map from Bally’s when it created what they thought was a formidable entity out of the ashes of their ill-advised rebrand of the FOX Sports Regional Networks?  As outdated as a map of Africa before 1960.

The biggest loser, and the entity that has the perpetual wrath of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, could ultimately be Sinclair Broadcasting, which tried to use its muscle to force Diamond to withdraw a $1.5 billion lawsuit that Diamond filed in a desperate act of blame gaming.  Both entities overpaid dramatically for a white elephant industry, and Sinclair has a deep history of using bankruptcy as an excuse not to pay their bills.  Many of their stations are FOX affiliates, and several of the senior MLB media advisors have a long financial history with FOX companies.  They know how much manure has been used on this playing field.

Today’s hearing will potentially present more options, reports Korman.

MLB will offer Diamond a deal that reduces the media rights fees it pays for three of the 11 teams in exchange for MLB gaining the digital rights for all Diamond teams in 2025, sources said.

The bankrupt company could reject the MLB proposal and still try to work out a deal with Amazon, a Diamond lender said, but that would be difficult.

Diamond, which broadcasts games under the Bally’s brand, currently has digital rights to five of the 11 teams, aside from the TV rights.

“Diamond was trying to renegotiate with baseball to get digital rights on a long-term basis [for all the 11 teams] so they could bring in Amazon,” the source said

But it seems like MLB wants to cut out Diamond and strike its own streaming deals with Amazon or Apple starting in 2025.

Just like the NBA and NHL already have done.

There will likely be some worry and fear-mongering spread to subscribers and fans in the wake of all of this.  Sinclair, Diamond and Bally’s have collectively shown they are poor losers.

But as the seamless in-season transitions of San Diego and Arizona have already proven, MLB more than knows how to play this game.

Criticize Rob Manfred if you will (the ghost runner’s somehow still in the rule book), but in this case, he’s throwing heat.  And yes, diamonds DO burn. 

Courage…

 

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