Rob Manfred: MLB ‘prepared’ for Bally Sports uncertainty

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he is prepared for the scenario of broadcasting all MLB games via if teams decide to terminate their broadcast agreements with Diamond Sports Group, the company that operates the regional Bally Sports networks.

“We are prepared, no matter what happens regarding Diamond, to make sure the games are available to fans in their home markets,” Manfred said at Cactus League Media Day on Wednesday. “We think it will be both linear on the traditional cable package and digitally on our own platforms, but that remains to be seen.”

After failing to pay $140 million in interest, Diamond Sports Group, the company that operates Bally Sports’ regional networks, entered a 30-day grace period that could lead them to file for bankruptcy.

Bally Sports Arizona owns the rights to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Coyotes and Phoenix Mercury.

In a financial statement conducted by Diamond, Bally Sports has been negatively affected by declining subscriber numbers and the rapid change in media consumption.

“It’s hard to escape the reality that the shift in media consumption has been particularly hard on RSNs (regional sports networks),” Manfred said. “Obviously, we want all of our broadcast partners to be successful. We don’t want them to have financial difficulties. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to work with Diamond to find out exactly where they are. Obviously, our first option would be for Diamond to pay the clubs what they are contractually obligated to pay them.”

If Diamond is unable to make the payment within 30 days, MLB is not offering any compensation or extension for the company. It has a plan to broadcast regional games and will offer fans the option to purchase a game package in the marketplace.

“We have been very clear that if Diamond does not pay, under each of the broadcast agreements, that creates a right of termination, and our clubs will proceed to terminate those contracts,” Manfred said. “In the event that MLB intervened, what we would do is produce the games. We would make use of our asset, the MLB Network, to do that. We would go directly to the distributors, I mean Comcast, Charter, the big distributors, and we would come to an agreement to distribute those games on the cable networks.

“We would also be looking at flexibility on the digital side so that when you watch, you go in, you can buy your package off the market like you always have, but you would have the option to buy games on the market, which I see as a huge improvement. for the fans.”

Manfred also pitched a theoretical solution for RSNs to continue to thrive in the current media climate, but conceded that their longevity is at risk due to evolving media consumption and digital variety.

“I think for a period of time there will be a legacy cable package model, including RSNs,” Manfred said. “It’s going to be smaller than we’re used to, certainly smaller than it was at its peak. But it will still be significant because there are associated economics that are important to the game.

“Eventually, it may go away, but I don’t think it’s a short-term phenomenon. I think it’s really important for the game to preserve the economics on the remaining RSN cable package while developing a digital alternative that has more flexibility and gives us better reach in terms of reaching fans who want to watch and don’t have the ability to do it. look.”

With the 30-day grace period ending in mid-March and MLB Opening Day on March 30, Diamond is expected to figure out his financial situation one way or another.

“So far, what Diamond has been telling us is that they intend to pay the rider,” Manfred said.

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