UPDATED with confirmation, deal details, stock movement: Disney and Sinclair Broadcasting Group on Friday confirmed they have reached a deal for Sinclair to acquire equity interest in Disney’s 21 regional sports networks. The deal values the RSNs at $10.6 billion.
The portfolio will be acquired via a newly formed indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Sinclair, Diamond Sports Group, the companies said. Byron Allen, whose company had been looking at the properties when they went through the auction process in recent months, is becoming an equity and content partner in a newly formed indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Sinclair and an indirect parent of Diamond.
Sinclair stock, which closed up 3% during the regular trading day, soared 15% higher after hours to an all-time high of $51.50. The acquisition comes after a year when the longtime leading owner of local TV station has regrouped after regulars thwarted its attempt to buy Tribune Media (now headed into the arms of rival Nexstar) and then pushed toward sports. Even though the meltdown of the Tribune deal was far from ideal, it left the company in a cash-rich position, ready to do deals. While the RSNs are not the beachfront property they may have been a decade ago, they can still punch above their weight given the persistent regional interest in live sports.
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The confirmation of the deal Friday comes after reports surfaced Thursday evening that the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations had finalized a deal for the stations that encompass local rights to 42 pro teams and saw revenue of $3.8 billion in 2018 from 74 million subscribers. Disney agreed to unload the portfolio as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and other global regulators ahead of its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of Fox.
Sinclair was already was part of a group that last month acquired the YES Network, thought to be the crown jewel of the regional nets, in a separate deal worth $3.5 billion, and it recently announced a partnership with the Chicago Cubs on a new RSN launching in 2020.
The networks included in today’s deal: Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports Sun, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Ohio, SportsTime Ohio, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Carolina, Fox Sports Tennessee, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Kansas City, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports San Diego, Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. Fox College Sports is also included in the deal.
“This is a very exciting transaction for Sinclair to be able to acquire highly complementary assets,” said Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley. “While consumer viewing habits have shifted, the tradition of watching live sports and news remains ingrained in our culture. As one of the largest local news producers in the country and an experienced producer of sports content, we are ideally positioned to transfer our skills to deliver and expand our focus on greater premium sports programming.”
Other bidders for the networks had included Liberty Media, Major League Baseball and Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 basketball league Big3. Sinclair, which already owns the Tennis Channel and the Stadium digital network, signaled interest in the RSNs from almost the beginning, and more so after its $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media was rejected by regulators last year and left it sitting on a lot of cash.
Allen, who bought The Weather Channel in 2018, is the founder, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, the global media, content and technology company. He now will become an equity and content partner in the newly formed RSN Holding Company.
The RSNs were cash cows for their owners in the 1990s and 2000s, but more recently they have taken hits amid major disruptions to the traditional business model, and when pay-TV operators refuse to meet their demands for steep carriage fees. (SportsNet LA, a joint venture between Charter and the Los Angeles Dodgers, have left a large chunk of their teams’ Los Angeles fan base unable to watch games due to carriage issues.)
The initial forecast from analysts was for $15 billion-$20 billion for the portfolio.
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