In recent months, we have seen the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports result in the non-payment of RSN rights fees to some MLB teams, and broadcasts of Padres and Diamondbacks games have been completely taken over by Major League Baseball, which is distributing those broadcasts both in a linear manner (via cable/satellite) and by streaming.
It had been reported earlier this year that Warner/Discovery wanted to exit the RSN business by the end of 2023. That will affect broadcasts for the Rockies, Astros and Pirates.
This article in Sports Business Journal by John Ourand has updates on all three teams’ broadcast future beyond the end of the season October 1.
For the Astros, the future seems pretty well assured:
A deal for the Houston RSN, AT&T SportsNet Southwest, will take a little longer. WBD Sports is still negotiating to have the Astros and Rockets take over that network. Several sources describe the two sides as close to a deal and expect one to be finalized before the start of the NBA season. The Rockets open the NBA schedule Oct. 25 in Orlando.
What this means is that the Astros will control their own broadcast rights and share ownership of a channel with the Rockets. This (apart from the sharing) is essentially what the Cubs have with Marquee Sports Network. Four other teams (Dodgers, SportsNetLA; Yankees, YES Network; Mets, SNY; and Red Sox, NESN) have either full or majority ownership in the channels carrying their games and those are not in jeopardy at this time.
But for the Pirates and Rockies, things are a bit less certain. For the Pirates:
In Pittsburgh, the Pirates still are considering cutting a deal with Fenway Sports Group to remain on a Pittsburgh-based RSN with the Penguins. Sources say the team is more likely to send its rights to MLB, but that decision still hasn’t been made.
Neither the team nor MLB feel that they are under any kind of deadline pressure to get a deal done, since it will not affect the Pirates’ current season.
The Pirates would become the third team to have MLB control its rights and broadcasts.
As for the Rockies:
The Rockies’ situation in Denver is a little more muddled. Like the Pirates, the Rockies could allow MLB to control its rights. But sources said the team also is considering joining another RSN that operates in the market.
Sources said that Altitude has approached the Rockies in the hopes of having a three-team RSN with the Nuggets, Avalanche and Rockies.
Altitude is hoping that a deal with the Rockies — and its 162-game season during the summer — will help it resolve its dispute with Comcast, which owns the market’s dominant cable system in Xfinity. Comcast has not carried Altitude since September 2019, and no agreement appears to be on the horizon.
Given that, the Rockies might be better off going with MLB — you certainly remember the angst over whether Comcast was going to carry Marquee when it launched in 2020. Ultimately they did so, and now cover well over 90 percent of the Cubs’ market territory, along with their new in-market streaming option, launched last month.
Commissioner Rob Manfred hinted in a news conference in Arizona in February that eventually, the league sees a path toward streaming all games so they could be watched without blackout:
Manfred added, “It’s really important for the game to preserve the economics in the remaining RSN/cable bundle while developing a digital alternative that has more flexibility” and added, “The one word that says what baseball needs is reach. We need to deliver product to fans who want to watch, on platforms that they customarily use, at a realistic price.”
This has begun to happen with Padres and Diamondbacks games. as well as the streaming option for Marquee for cord-cutters in the Cubs market territory. It seems that a couple of other teams such as the Pirates and Rockies could go this route.
Lastly, I want to mention something interesting I noticed Monday night. When I got home from Wrigley Field, I put on MLB Network, which was carrying the Diamondbacks/Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium, a game that had interest for Cubs fans for the wild-card race.
In general, when MLB Network is not producing a game it’s airing, they pick up the home team’s broadcast. But that was not the case Monday with the game being played in Los Angeles. They used the Diamondbacks feed — a feed MLB already owns, because the D-Backs switched their games to MLB after Bally Sports Arizona failed a couple of months ago. This is likely to save some money — I assume MLBN has to pay something to air RSN games, but they don’t with games they already own.
This is the future of baseball broadcasting, I think: More consolidation and more control by Major League Baseball. Whether this is a good thing or not, makes more money for MLB and its teams, and/or provides more access to these broadcasts, remains to be seen.
As always, we await developments.