Sinclair Exploring Sale of RSN Naming Rights to Betting Companies

Eben Novy-Williams and Jacob Feldman
·3 min read

Sinclair Broadcast Group is considering selling naming rights to the 21 regional sports networks it acquired from Disney, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.

Sinclair has discussed the naming rights with potential sports betting partners, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because the talks are private. The conversations have started with rights to all 21 networks as a group, but Sinclair could also decide to sell the rights piecemeal, the people said.

Executives at Sinclair have publicly discussed rebranding the networks since they were acquired for $9.6 billion last August. For now, they remain known as the Fox Sports Networks (Disney agreed to sell them when it took over Fox’s entertainment assets in early 2019.)

Naming rights are a relatively unexplored concept for broadcast networks, but the pitch is similar to the process for an arena or stadium, the people said. It’s an opportunity that other media companies haven’t offered and it could be valuable real estate—the networks have broadcast rights to 40 NHL, NBA and MLB clubs, and pre-pandemic had about 74 million subscribers.

It’s unclear if Sinclair is also talking to non-betting companies about the network names. A spokesman for Sinclair didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Should a final deal include naming rights, it would need the approval of the NBA, NHL and MLB, a significant potential hurdle, according to two of the people. Any naming deal would also exclude two other RSNs—YES Network (New York Yankees) and Marquee Network (Chicago Cubs)—that Sinclair partly owns, the people said.

The rebranding is a long time coming. Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said last August that the company was only able to use the Fox Sports name for a temporary period of time. During an earnings call in May, he said the rebrand was “top of mind.”

Sinclair is part-owner of digital sports network Stadium, which has been rumored as another potential fit for the RSN names. The Fox Sports Go app, part of the RSN acquisition, may also be reformatted to offer direct-to-consumer content and/or gaming additions in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the NHL, NBA and MLB seasons, had a dramatic effect on the RSNs, and earlier this month Sinclair wrote down their value by $4.23 billion. Shares have dropped about 33% percent over the past year.

A sports betting partnership would provide some much-needed additional revenue. As legal sports betting spreads across the country, betting operators have been quick to partner with media companies in pursuit of new customers. Those sportsbooks are looking for people willing to gamble on sports, and one way to reach them is through the networks that broadcast the games.

These deals typically take various forms. Some are basic marketing and product integration (like CBS and William Hill); others include the partners co-launching a sports betting platform, as Fox and The Stars Group did with Fox Bet. NBC’s full deal with PointsBet, which includes equity, could be worth as much as $500 million.

It’s unclear in which direction Sinclair may ultimately go, but its regional-specific assets match well with the state-by-state approach to legislation. For example, an operator looking to grow its presence in Tennessee, which launched online betting this month, could target the audience through Fox Sports Tennessee, which has broadcast rights to the Memphis Grizzlies and Nashville Predators.

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