Sinclair says Bally Sports streamer won’t cost $23 a month

The coverage map of Sinclair’s regional sports channels Bally Sports. (Image courtesy Sinclair Broadcast Group, Graphic by The Desk)

A Sinclair Broadcast Group executive has denied a report that claimed that the media company’s forthcoming sports-centric streaming service will cost $23 a month.

The report, which was published by the New York Post earlier this month, said Sinclair had told potential investors that it was targeting a price point of $23 a month for the Bally Sports-branded streaming service, which is expected to offer live broadcasts of games that are normally carried on regional sports cable channels.

The Post did not name its sources, but sad the company was aiming to raise around $250 million for the streamer.

News of the potential price point sent sports fans in a tizzy: At a time when traditional cable and satellite service is getting more expensive (in large part due to programming costs imposed by content rights holders like Sinclair), streaming services are seen as the antidote due to their comparatively lower cost.

At $23 a month, the Bally Sports streamer would be one of the most-expensive niche streaming services on the market. By comparison, Comcast’s Peacock streaming service — which also includes sports content — costs around $5 a month with advertisements, while ViacomCBS streamer Paramount Plus costs $10 a month with live access to local CBS affiliates and national sports telecasts included.

In an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal this week, Sinclair’s chief executive Christopher Ripley said the $23 a month figure widely reported by the Post and others (including The Desk) was not accurate, but he declined to provide information about the price Sinclair was ultimately considering for the sports streamer.

“That number is inaccurate, and I can’t comment on what the ultimate pricing will be,” he said.

Ripley offered relatively few details about the upcoming streaming service, other than to proclaim that it would revolutionize the way sports is delivered over the Internet.

“Sports needs to transform, as so many media businesses need to,” Ripley said. “It’s not only just bringing the games over the top into direct-to-consumer — it’s providing gamification, fandom-based community and other engagement opportunities like e-commerce, ticketing, collectibles and creating that whole ecosystem.”

Sinclair acquired the regional sports channels from the Walt Disney Company for $9.6 billion after the latter agreed to purchase certain media assets from 21st Century Fox in 2019. The sale of the sports channels was required in order for Disney to secure regulatory approval for its acquisition of Fox’s general entertainment cable channels as well as its film and TV content. Disney is a majority owner of ESPN and operates its own sports-centric streaming service, ESPN Plus, which costs $6 a month.

After acquiring the channels, Sinclair retired the Fox Sports branding for those networks, forging a licensing deal that saw the channels re-branded under the Bally Sports name.

Over the last two years, Sinclair has struggled to forge carriage deals for the regional sports channels and a few others that are controlled by the broadcast company. Dish Network was one of the first pay TV distributors to drop the Sinclair sports channels, with Hulu and YouTube TV following a short time later.

Last year’s coronavirus pandemic was not kind to Sinclair, either: The company was estimated to lose around $130 million after it was forced to issue refunds to cable and satellite customers due to a lack of live sporting events, which were sidelined due to the health crisis.

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