Capping a challenging multi-year development process, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports unit has set September 26 as the nationwide launch date for direct-to-consumer streaming service Bally Sports+.
At $19.99 a month or $189.99 a year, Bally Sports+ will be among the priciest streaming options in the marketplace, but the company expects many diehard sports fans lacking pay-TV subscriptions to pony up to watch their local teams. The 19 Bally networks operated by Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group subsidiary feature Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL games, along with a range of college and prep sports. The company says additional pricing options will be released once the service is live.
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At launch, Bally Sports+ will be available on mobile and tablet devices operating on iOS or Android, Android TV, TvOS, and BallySports.com. Yet to be accounted for are Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two significant gateways for streaming in the U.S. Shoring up digital distribution will be a priority for Diamond given that sizable pay-TV operators like Dish Network and YouTube TV have been at an impasse with the company, leaving the Bally networks dark on those major hubs.
The rollout is a milestone in the sports media business and represents the biggest test to date of whether the lucrative legacy model of regional sports networks can be transferred to the digital age. The networks were long known as the Fox RSNs before rebranding in 2021. When Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox in 2019, it sold off the networks in order to avoid regulatory issues related to its ownership of ESPN. Sinclair led a coalition of buyers in the $10.6 billion transaction. Byron Allen retains a small stake, but Sinclair owns nearly 100% of Diamond.
Several months ago, five Bally networks rolled out streaming offerings. At the same time, Sinclair said it had secured a $635 million financing arrangement aimed at funding the streaming initiative. In addition to the tech requirements, the company is transitioning from the long-established model of pay-TV — in which operators would charge fees to customers seeking access to RSNs — to a direct-to-consumer model. As it navigates the shift, Diamond has brought in former Fox Sports and Hulu boss Randy Freer to serve on a new board of managers, along with former NBC, Disney and ESPN exec David Preschlack; Maryann Turcke, a senior adviser to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s former COO; and former senior NBA and NFL exec Bob Whitsitt.
The Covid curtain fell just months after the close of the Sinclair-led acquisition of the RSNs, posing a significant challenge. Months of games were scrubbed from the schedule, resulting in a scramble for rebates and make-goods among leagues, network owners and customers. Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, viewership trends have been encouraging and with Amazon, Apple, Peacock and others popularizing the idea of watching live sports via the internet, Bally sees an opportunity.
“Today is a significant step for the RSN industry as we offer local sports fans across our Bally Sports footprint a new way to watch their hometown teams,” Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said. “We view Bally Sports+ as a great complement to the incredible value our distribution partners provide our linear networks; and with both models, we are uniquely positioned to help our team partners grow their fan bases for years to come.”
Michael Schneider, COO and GM of Bally Sports+ called the nationwide launch “a key moment in the evolution of RSNs, but it is also a great moment for local fans who now have another viewing option for their favorite teams.”
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