Dish, Sinclair reach carriage agreement – but RSNs out of the picture

Deal is for local stations, nothing more

In a blow for local sports fans who are not subscribers to cable or DirecTV, Sinclair new carriage deal with Dish does not include the regional sports networks the company owns, branded Bally Sports Net.

But it is good news for Dish subscribers who won’t have to suffer any program interruptions on 144 stations in 85 Sinclair markets, nor lose their local news (or propaganda, depending on your point of view.) The deal covers local stations and the Tennis Channel on Dish and Sling.

In the Midwest, Sinclair owns stations in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Springfield, Ill. and larger markets such as Washington D.C., Seattle, and Pittsburgh. 

But Sinclair wasn’t able to include their regional sports networks, or RSNs, in the deal as they have been trying to do in order to have some sort of leverage over Dish. In the end, Sinclair felt their local stations wasn’t worth losing carriage, and basically caved in. Both companies have been going on one-week extensions since mid-August when the NFL season started up. In contrast, Tegna pulled their stations off of Dish last month in a retransmission dispute, and both companies have filed complaints against each other at the FCC. 

“Our agreement with Dish reflects the continued importance that distributors place on local and national broadcast content,” said William Bell, Sinclair’s head of distribution and network relations in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to provide Dish viewers with the high-quality and highly-desired entertainment, and timely local news that they depend on every day.”     

With the Bally RSNs out of the deal, the future of the nineteen channels looks increasingly iffy. After the deal was announced, the bond market reacted negatively as Diamond Sports Group – the subsidiary set up by Sinclair to run the RSNs saw their bonds were among the days “biggest high-yield decliners”. Without the Dish deal, Diamond is hard pressed for cash and bankruptcy could be possible next year. 

Moreover, the situation hurts the teams whose has rights with Bally Sports Net – notably smaller-market franchises in the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball, who depend on RSN revenues to sign players. As more and more consumers cut the cable cord and unable to watch their teams on streamers as Bally has no deals with them (with the exception of DirecTV stream), this is looking more and more like Bill Wirtz’s Blackout Policy 2.0, as the late Chicago Blackhawks owner blacked out home games on local TV for over 50 years because he feared an impact on attendance, which obviously had the opposite effect. As most team owners seem not to really care about the situation – and home attendance slipping in all three leagues (compared to 2019), the best way to promote your product is now not reachable to many sports fans, and indeed a huge marketing problem. 

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