Braves Ready for RSN Pivot if Diamond Doesn’t Pay, Liberty CEO Says
The Atlanta Braves continue to receive payments from regional sports network owner Diamond Sports Group, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but are prepared to pivot if there’s a disruption.
Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said he doesn’t anticipate missed rights fee payments from Diamond’s Bally Sports network, which at least three MLB franchises have experienced, because the Braves games are telecast on a profitable RSN within Diamond’s portfolio.
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“Even if they were to reject it, which we don’t expect, there’s other alternatives that we can construct in the marketplace that would enable us to get paid and have our product shown to our fans, which is really the most important thing,” Maffei said during quarterly investors call on Friday. “We’re certainly prepared if we have to go out and exercise those alternatives.”
While it’s unclear how the Braves would pivot, other teams have already started to make reservations elsewhere. Diamond Sports Holdings filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury this week after the teams announced last week they were walking away from the financially troubled RSN to put games on local TV. The Las Vegas Goldens Knights also recently inked a deal with the E.W. Scripps Co. for free, local broadcasts of games that aren’t limited by exclusive national rights.
The Braves, who are owned by Liberty, are in a 20-year local TV rights deal that expires in 2027. Maffei has previously said that the Braves TV deal through Diamond’s Bally Sports isn’t as good as some other teams’ arrangements, but it’s certainly not the worst, and the RSN’s large Southeast footprint is a benefit to the team. The deal got a little sweeter this year with its annual payment jumping to more than $100 million, less than two years removed from the team’s World Series win.
The Braves, meanwhile, are preparing to be split off into a publicly traded company. Liberty is still going through this process with the SEC and expects the transaction to be completed, along with other reclassification of tracking stocks, by the end of the second quarter.
The Braves (22-10) are in first place in the NL East and have reeled in $31 million in total revenue in the first quarter, a 35% jump from the same period last year. Operating income and adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) were down, however, as player salary expenses weren’t realized during last year’s MLB lockout.
Liberty also owns Formula 1, and the racing promotion heads into the second annual Miami Grand Prix this weekend after posting a solid first quarter. Liberty said F1 generated $381 million in total revenue during the first quarter, a 6% jump from the same period last year. The F1 Group saw its adjusted OIBDA decrease to $105 million, though, as team payments were higher at $112 million for the period.
With the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix scheduled for this upcoming November, Liberty reported on Friday that its Las Vegas Paddock building is more than 60% complete and expects occupancy in September. Liberty, which bought the land for the facility for $240 million, is hoping to generate $500 million in revenue from the race.
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