Leagues may try to buy Bally Sports channels from Sinclair

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

Three professional sports leagues may make a bid for Sinclair Broadcast Group’s two dozen regional sports networks, according to a report published this week.

On Tuesday, the New York Post said officials from Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) were slated to hold discussions with Sinclair over its 21 Bally Sports-branded channels.

Sinclair acquired the channels from the Walt Disney Company several years ago. Disney parted with the sports networks, then branded as Fox Sports, in order to satisfy regulatory concerns over its acquisition of certain assets from what was then 21st Century Fox.

Sinclair paid $10.6 billion for the 21 sports channels, which are operated through a subsidiary called Diamond Sports Group. Since the acquisition, Sinclair has struggled to renew carriage agreements with pay television companies like Comcast (Xfinity) and Charter (Spectrum). Last year, satellite company Dish Network extended its agreement to carry Sinclair-owned local broadcast stations, but without a deal to carry the regional sports networks.

As part of a quick cash grab, Sinclair struck a deal with gaming and betting company Bally’s Corporation to name the channels after the Rhode Island-based company. The two dozen Bally’s Sports channels hold the exclusive rights to games played by more than 40 professional sports teams. Many of those teams are part of one of the three leagues reportedly interested in acquiring the channels from Sinclair.

Faced with a lack of carriage on cable and satellite, Sinclair recently unveiled a direct-to-consumer streaming service that offers local viewers access to their Bally Sports channel. The service, called Bally Sports Plus, costs $20 a month or $200 a year and became available in a handful of cities last month. Bally Sports Plus is expected to be rolled out on a broader scale next Monday.

Late last month, a report published by the Sports Business Journal said Sinclair had tapped two investment banks to restructure the Diamond Sports Group subsidiary for a potential sale. On Tuesday, the Post said a source reportedly affirmed that the company would approach each of the three professional leagues to see if they are interested in acquiring the channels.

Sinclair is hoping to sell the entire sports group for around $3 billion, including debt, the Post said. If those talks fall through, Sinclair’s creditors could force Diamond Sports Group into bankruptcy. Sources reportedly told the newspaper that if the sports part of its business is forced into bankruptcy, it will still be able to broadcast live games, but won’t have to pay for the rights to carry them.

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