Diamond Sports Group, operator of the largest string of regional sports networks in the U.S., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The move, announced Tuesday night by the subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, had been expected for several weeks. The RSN model, which was a profit geyser for decades during the years when the pay-TV bundle dominated the media business, has come under intense pressure during the streaming era when more viewers pay for TV in piecemeal fashion.
Diamond, whose 23 networks are branded as Bally Sports, said it will continue to broadcast local games as it goes through the bankruptcy process in a Texas court. The company’s goal is to eliminate $8 billion in debt and to restructure and strengthen its balance sheet, though Diamond maintained in a press release that it is “well capitalized” with about $425 million in cash.
Sinclair emerged as the leader of the winning bid for the RSNs formerly run by Fox. Disney was forced by regulators to unload the networks in order to close its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox. (Regulators said it would create a monopoly given Disney’s ownership of ESPN.) Backers of Sinclair’s $10.6 billion bid included private equity firms and media executive Byron Allen. The deal closed in 2019, but a few months later, Covid wiped out live sports for months and left RSNs in the lurch. The networks’ structure was already under question in a marketplace where millions of pay-TV subscribers a year have been cutting the cord.
Securing carriage also has proved to be a challenge given Diamond’s need to continue escalating the fees it demands from pay-TV operators. It long ago lost distribution on Dish Network systems as well as leading internet-delivered bundles including YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV.
The restructuring agreement being sought in the bankruptcy process will involve Diamond separating itself from Sinclair and operating as a stand-alone entity.
David Preschlack, a former exec at NBC Sports, Disney and ESPN who was named CEO of Diamond last December, called Chapter 11 “the best path forward” for the company. “The financial flexibility attained through this restructuring will allow DSG to evolve our business while continuing to provide exceptional live sports productions for our fans,” he added.
The nearly two dozen Bally Sports RSNs are the TV home of more than half of all MLB, NBA and NHL teams. They cover a wide swath of the U.S. including three in Southern California nets that air games of teams including the Los Angeles Kings and Angels and the San Diego Padres. Other marquee clubs whose games air on Bally RSNs include MLB’s Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
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