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Optimum drops Bally Sports, but subscribers can still stream games

A spokesperson for Optimum said it wasn't fair that customers pay more for Bally Sports channels while the fate of regional sports networks is up in the air.

A spokesperson for Optimum said it wasn't fair that customers pay more for Bally Sports channels while the fate of regional sports networks is up in the air.

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

Altice-owned cable TV and broadband provider Optimum has pulled Diamond Sports Group’s Bally Sports-branded regional networks from its systems across the country.

The decision to drop Bally Sports will affect tens of thousands of Optimum customers in a handful of markets. Diamond Sports programs nearly two dozen Bally Sports-branded regional networks, but Optimum only carried 12 of them based on their service footprint, which provides service to 5 million customers.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Optimum hinted that the decision to drop the Bally Sports channels was due to a demand for more money by Diamond Sports. The spokesperson characterized the demand as unreasonable because the fate of Diamond Sports as a company and its two dozen Bally Sports channels is uncertain.

Diamond Sports — which operates through a joint venture between Sinclair, Inc. and Allen Media Group — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year after reporting more than $8 billion in debt. Earlier this year, the company submitted a potential restructuring plan to the bankruptcy court overseeing its case that, if approved, would allow it to draw down a significant amount of debt and emerge from bankruptcy. The plan is still pending approval.

Creditors — including major sports leagues — say the viability of the plan needs to be evaluated against Diamond Sports’ ability to secure new carriage deals with pay TV providers, which would allow it to make regular and timely rights payments in exchange for the privilege of carrying live baseball, basketball, hockey and other programming.

To date, Diamond Sports has renewed its carriage deals with several leading pay TV platforms, including Cox Cable, Fubo, DirecTV and Charter’s Spectrum TV. But its restructuring plan was called into question after Comcast pulled the channels from its Xfinity TV platform in late April after discussions between it and Diamond Sports broke down.

As The Desk reported at the time, Comcast and Diamond Sports were each open to an extension of a distribution agreement, but were too far apart on specific terms. Diamond Sports wanted more money for its channels, which Comcast did not oppose, so long as it could also offer subscribers access to the companion streaming app Bally Sports Plus, as well as the option to relegate Bally Sports channels into more-expensive programming packages.

Diamond Sports — and creditors — shared the concern that giving Comcast the ability to move the channels into a costlier plan would reduce the reach of the Bally Sports networks, which would also see Diamond Sports collecting more in per-subscriber fees. Creditors also worried that the term could trigger “most-favored nation” clauses in Diamond Sports’ agreement with other pay TV distributors, who would seek to re-negotiate their contracts in order to also push Bally Sports channels into more-expensive packages.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Optimum shared some of those concerns, saying they used their “best efforts” to work with Diamond Sports toward a new carriage agreement, but felt the terms imposed by Diamond Sports were too onerous.

“We do not believe it is fair for Diamond Sports Group to ask customers to pay high rates for their channels when they are still negotiating content rights with various sports leagues and do not yet know what content will be available to their viewers,” the Optimum spokesperson said.

The move means channels like Bally Sports Arizona, Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Ohio and Bally Sports Southwest are now unavailable to Optimum subscribers through their pay TV package, but affected customers still have one way of watching live sports and related programming: They can purchase Bally Sports Plus, which costs $20 per month or $190 a year, and stream those same channels using their phone, tablet, computer or smart TV system. The Bally Sports Plus app is available for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV (Google TV) and Apple TV, and some other streaming TV systems.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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