Heading into the new baseball season this week, Sinclair Broadcast Group's regional sports networks, Bally Sports, have some business hurdles to overcome, which come from regaining carriage or starting up new deals with virtual pay TV providers.
The group -- newly renamed Bally Sports after a partnership deal Sinclair struck with Bally’s Corp. earlier this year -- continues to seek deals from growing streaming players, including Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and fubo TV.
“We’ll continue to negotiate with those virtual providers, as well as Dish Network,” Rob Weisbord, president of broadcast/CRO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, tells Television News Daily. “Right now, they are trying to figure out the economics of it.”
Still, the Bally Sports regional sports networks -- formerly the Fox Sports networks -- continue to have long-term deals with traditional pay TV providers. In addition, he says: “If people want to stream [now], they can stream it on AT&T TV service.”
AT&T TV is the lone vMVPD airing all Bally regional sports networks (RSNs).
Down the line, distribution
of its linear sports TV platforms will evolve: “Ultimately, they will be some form of hybrid model -- not today, not tomorrow -- direct to consumer/distribution deals that we’d have in
place,” Weisbord says.
A number of deals are in the works with other connected TV platforms.
The Bally Sports App (replacing the Fox Sports Go App) will appear on a number of connected TV platforms -- including Samsung and Vizio platforms later this year. In addition, Bally Sports apps will be on a full range of streaming services: Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and others.
Long-term, Weisbord believes RSNs will retain significant value in the sports TV world. “[Local TV sports] ratings dwarf national TV because most people have the love of their local team.”
So where’s the growth? That would be with millennials, Gen Zs and other potential young TV sports viewers, with "gamifying" sports TV content for baseball, basketball or hockey -- making it interactive.
Gamifying sports TV content is a transition of sorts to full-on gambling. In part, this is where Bally’s Corp. comes in -- a gaming company that owns 12 casinos and racetrack properties.
While many other sports TV platforms have partnered with certain sports-wagering and betting companies, legal sports betting is only available in 25 states. Not all RSNs match up with those states.
Even then, there are technology broadband issues.
“You can’t do hardcore gambling right now because of the latency,” says Weisbord. “You have to get down to milliseconds of latency. Right now, latency is an issue.”
Broadband issues and delay latency affect wagering. Timing becomes an issue for betting, for example, in terms of whether the next batter might strike out, or what the next pitch might be. That’s not possible if there is a 45-second delay from the actual event to what appears on TV.
Early reading of TV advertising activity for Bally Sports has been good, partly due to the promise of a surge from many returning brand advertisers, which have been on the sidelines since the pandemic started a year ago.
“It’s been pretty robust; I’m optimistic,” says Weisbord. “We’re on target to get to their projected numbers.” He adds that automotive, travel and consumer products marketers are slowly returning.
National TV ads for Ballys Sports are sold through Home Team Sports, a TV and digital advertising-sales unit of Fox Networks Group. HTS sells local sports team media advertising across a number of RSN sports networks groups. The company did the same job when Bally Sports was under the Fox Sports brand.
Increasingly, Weisbord says, advertisers might also look more favorably at RSNs going forward. “The ratings haven’t really suffered. And then there is Nielsen [now] measuring broadband and out-of-home viewing. For the first time, that is going to be counted into the ratings. So it will benefit from that.”
But the bottom line for this year is keeping all sports teams on the field and in arenas, playing games. “There were a ton of games cancelled in the first quarter that will be made up in second quarter. ... It’s about keeping these teams healthy.”