Regional Sports Networks Take Subscriber Loss Hits

For a long time, regional sports networks have been easy money-makers -- even when specific team competitive fortunes haven’t been all that promising.

Hedging its bets for the future, Sinclair Broadcast Group went big to acquire all 21 Fox regional sports networks and Fox College Sports -- a $9.6 billion agreement from Walt Disney. It came after Disney’s deal to buy about half of 21st Century Fox's TV/film businesses.

That deal is now officially closed.

All that would seem to be good news for Sinclair -- the biggest owner of TV stations in the U.S. -- which looks to leverage its regional/local TV content status by expanding beyond its growing local TV news content. For many, the thinking follows what Fox Corp. is doing nationally -- when it comes to TV news and sports.

Regional sports networks may seem to be immune to advertising revenue hits -- as well as paid subscriber losses. But our eyes were opened when looking at MSG Networks in New York.



Recently, we learned the regional cable TV group lost around 6.5% of its subscribers -- roughly double the declining rate of many national cable TV networks.

Much of MSG Network's sports content is built around the New York Knicks and New York Rangers games. 

While the Rangers continue to perform decently as a competitive team (though missing the playoffs the last two years), the same can’t be said of the New York Knicks, a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season.

What’s going on? Perhaps there’s some real spillover from the nonsports cable TV side of things, where subscribers are steadily leaving virtually all U.S. cable TV networks in looking for cheaper alternatives.

This is especially true for regional sports networks charging an $8 to $10 a month added fee to the monthly pay-TV package cost.

ESPN, the big cable TV sports programming group, has also seen sinking subscribers. But its focus is on a national sports perspective -- with little individual team-hometown boosting content.

Sports TV subscribers are still a resilience bunch — win or lose. Local streaming services have been a slow-growing next step for growth.

Still, one wonders if the growing world of legalized sports waging across many states will help major sports franchises maintain their value and that of their respective regional TV networks.

1 comment about "Regional Sports Networks Take Subscriber Loss Hits".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 28, 2019 at 5:19 p.m.

    Not surprising---but interesting---Wayne. I suspect that the folks who dumped the MSG network were not only turned off by the lackluster Knicks but were also relatively infrequent users of such content. In fact, this seems to be the pattern for "cord cutting" in general. The first to defect are the lightest viewers. This is evident not only demographically---younger, affluent people are more likely to cut the cord than older people and those with lesser educations, incomes, etc. Also, recent Nielsen data, which we have shared with our Media Dynamics subscribers, appears to support this hypothesis.

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