The parent company of Bally Sports Sun and Bally Sports Florida filed for bankruptcy protection last week, but its television coverage of six of the state’s pro teams - including the Heat, Marlins and Panthers - isn’t expected to be interrupted this season, according to a source briefed on the matter.
According to a source, Diamond Sports Group - which owns 19 regional sports networks - has had no default on payments to the Heat, Panthers, Marlins, Magic, Lightning or Tampa Bay Rays.
Additional payments are due later this year. Diamond - at this point - intends to pay those rights fees.
One factor increasing the likelihood of Bally Sports Florida and Sun continuing to carry those six teams, at least for the next several months: Rights fees for the Florida teams aren’t as hefty as several teams in larger markets. The company’s business in Florida is considered strong.
To this point, the Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly the only team that hasn’t received its rights fee payment. Diamond said it did not make a rights fee payment to the Diamondbacks because it had not secured streaming rights.
Diamond Sports Group - an independently run subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group - is in this precarious position mostly because it took on about $8 billion in debt resulting from Sinclair acquiring the regional sports networks from Disney for $10.6 billion in 2019.
Per CNBC, Diamond Sports, last month, said “it missed a $140 million interest payment due to its bondholders and would instead enter into a 30-day grace period.”
Diamond said last week that it is finalizing a Restructuring Support Agreement with holders of a majority of the company’s debt and Sinclair to eliminate more than $8 billion of the company’s outstanding debt. To facilitate that, Diamond filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas.
MLB has taken the matter seriously, putting in place contingency plans to air games of several teams if Diamond cannot meet its financial obligations. Teams reportedly of particular concern to MLB are San Diego, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Arizona, because for those franchises, Diamond reportedly is paying more in rights fees than it generates through cable contracts and advertising.
MLB likely would take control of local broadcasts of those four teams - and any others impacted - and stream them for free in their markets while negotiating with cable companies.
Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers notified Diamond that it would terminate its media rights deal “in the event of its insolvency.”
The expectation is the Diamond will meet its financial obligations for Marlins and Rays games to remain on Bally Sun and Bally Florida in 2023.
But nationally, drama likely awaits as bankruptcy hearings proceed. Diamond’s deals with Comcast and DirecTV expire in September and November, respectively, according to the New York Post.
Among Diamond’s many challenges: More and more U.S. homes are dropping cable and satellite television, instead opting for streaming services.
As an example, ESPN’s penetration has dipped from 100 million homes in 2011 to 74 million now.
THIS AND THAT
CBS assigned lead team Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill to the NCAA Tournament games in Kansas City, including UM-Houston at 7:15 p.m. Friday on CBS. Xavier and Texas will play on CBS about 30 minutes after the UM game.
Nantz, who attended the University of Houston, is calling his final NCAA Tournament for CBS. The network’s 63-year-old signature voice wanted to cut down a bit on his spring workload but will retain his lead NFL play-by-play job and his golf hosting duties.
The remainder of the Thursday/Friday schedule: Arkansas-Connecticut and then Gonzaga-UCLA on Thursday night on CBS (with Kevin Harlan, Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner announcing); Michigan State-Kansas State and then FAU-Tennessee on Thursday night on TBS (with Brian Anderson and Jim Jackson); and San Diego State-Alabama and then Princeton-Creighton on TBS on Friday night (with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel).
The first TBS games tip at 6:30 p.m. those nights; the first CBS games tip at 7:15.
▪ In a new contract with CBS, Greg Gumbel, 76, is relinquishing NFL play-by-play duties but will continue to host the network’s NCAA Tournament coverage.
Andrew Catalon seems in good position to carve out a higher profile role in the wake of Nantz relinquishing NCAA Tournament duties and Gumbel stepping aside from NFL play-by-play.
Catalon received the marquee late afternoon Tournament assignment preceding 60 Minutes on Sunday (Michigan State-Marquette) and could get second weekend Tournament assignments for the first time next year.
Eagle will succeed Nantz as CBS’ voice of the Final Four.
Catalon also could rise a spot on CBS’ NFL depth chart, from fifth to fourth, if CBS stays in house to replace Gumbel.
Catalon did excellent work on No. 16 seed Farleigh Dickinson’s upset of No. 1 Purdue. And when FAU advanced Sunday to the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden, Catalon succinctly punctuated it with a “from Boca to Broadway.”
▪ Months before it takes over NFL Sunday Ticket, YouTube is raising its monthly subscription fee from $64.99 to $72.99 - a $96 annual jump for its five million subscribers. YouTube also will offer Sunday Ticket as a stand-alone product but hasn’t announced prices.
▪ If you missed this, UM’s spring game on April 14 at DRV-PINK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale won’t be on live television; it will be streamed on ACC Network’s digital platform available on the ESPN App.
ESPN is televising only one spring game (Deion Sanders’ first spring game as Colorado’s coach) and ACC Network is airing only one spring game (Virginia’s).
Streaming -- rather than televising -- those games will hold down costs, one ESPN staffer said.
Disney has been looking to cut costs.
CEO Bob Iger said last month that 7,000 jobs would be eliminated across the board at Disney properties; some of those layoffs are expected at ESPN, which dumped 300 employees in mass layoffs in 2020.