The unicorn for sports fans has long been an à la carte streaming service that allows them to watch games without the need to authenticate through a cable or satellite provider, especially when it comes to their local teams’ broadcasts. That dream seemed to be getting a little closer when Sinclair announced plans to launch a service that would combine several different regional sports networks into one package, but reality may have other ideas.
Even if the media giant does manage to get the sports version of Netflix up and running next year, which had been the plan, they’re going to be doing it without baseball. And if you’ve been following this whole sage for the past few years, you know that MLB is a tentpole of the former FOX Sports stations Sinclair purchased from Disney.
Speaking at the CAA World Congress of Sports in New York recently, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred trashed Sinclair’s plans as flimsy and ill-conceived. He said the conglomerate doesn’t have nearly enough clout in terms of either digital or gambling rights, both of which have been discussed with the league.
“We’ve been very clear with them from the beginning that we see both those sets of rights as extraordinarily valuable to baseball, and we’re not just going to throw them in to help Sinclair out,” Manfred explained. “The other part of their problem is there’s excessive leverage on that business.
“If you think about what they paid for it, how much debt they have on it, I mean, you think it’s over 80%, it’s a huge number. And that leverage has produced headlines that are more negative.”
The leverage in question is the $8 billion or so in debt Sinclair had earlier announced a plan to restructure in the wake of massive losses from those new RSNs. It’s kinda wild that an organization would dump so much money into a market after its bubble had so clearly burst, but it’s really just a bigger version of what happened with the Cubs and Marquee.
RSNs were once cash cows, which is why the Dodgers are earning something like eleventy bajillion dollars every year for a channel most of its fans couldn’t watch for several years. You’d think a lot of that money is still there in a different segment of the media landscape, hence the attraction to streaming. But for MLB and other leagues to do a streaming deal with Sinclair or another partner, they’d have to be making more new money than they’d lose from their existing broadcast partners.
So this may have simply been a matter of Manfred publicly scoffing at the idea of a streaming service in order to placate traditional rights-holders and goad Sinclair into sweetening the pot. Or he’s really just telling Sinclair to pound sand because they’ve mucked everything up.