Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group Inks NHL Renewal Deal, MLB Lockout Looms

Even as Sinclair Broadcast Group renewed its National Hockey League distribution deal late on Thursday -- which includes digital streaming rights for its troubled regional sports network business, Diamond Sports Group -- other issues loomed.

Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group’s multi-year deal with the NHL gives it digital and outer market distribution rights. Bally Sports Regional Networks can offer streaming content, including live games on direct-to-consumer (DTC) platforms for 12 NHL teams. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The new deal also expands post-game highlights on Sinclair’s digital news platforms, alternative feeds and use of the NHL’s proprietary Puck and Player Tracking data in the broadcasts of the games.

Dealing with Major League Baseball isn't as smooth.

Team owners locked out players on Thursday, due to stalling contract negotiations with the MLB Players Association.



All this could slow down Sinclair’s Bally Sports regional sports networks' efforts to expand its business -- especially in launching a new premium streaming business, tentatively scheduled for spring 2022 before the baseball season starts.

“There could be an impact,” says Chris Ripley, president-CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, speaking earlier in the week at a Bank of America investor conference. “Obviously, if the season is delayed, we won’t have a key tentpole product to support both our linear channels and our new D2C [platform].”

Major League Baseball team owners and the MLB Players Association have a number of disagreements, including when young players can declare free agency -- something that can dramatically increase their salaries. Team owners want to delay free agency, and the players' union is pushing for players to get it sooner.

Even if the lockout ends before the season starts, Sinclair would seemingly need more deals with baseball teams with regard to digital streaming rights. Currently, it only has digital rights to four teams.

Ripley says: “The product we are working on will include all the NHL teams and the NBA teams, and more recently, the [four] MLB teams that we have the direct-to-consumer rights to.” Sinclair owns and/or operates 21 regional sports networks.

Still, Major League Baseball might not be that interested in deals with Sinclair.

Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, has been concerned about doing business with Diamond Sports Group -- not just around providing digital rights, but potentially lucrative sports betting rights.

He has said he is especially worried about Diamond Sports Group's now monstrous $8 billion debt for its RSN business. In 2019, Sinclair bought 21 former Fox Sports regional sports networks from Walt Disney for $10.6 billion.

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