MLB to stream games for free amid looming Diamond Sports bankruptcy: sources
Major League Baseball plans to step up to the plate to broadcast games by about a half-dozen teams from a bankrupt regional sports network provider so fans don’t miss a single pitch, The Post has learned.
Diamond Sports owns the home broadcast rights to 14 baseball teams, but sources close to the situation told The Post that the cash-strapped company is expected to file for bankruptcy on March 17 — days before the March 30 start of the season.
Diamond, which operates under Bally’s name, is expected to use the bankruptcy proceedings to reject the contracts of at least four teams to whom it pays more in rights fees than it recoups through cable contracts and advertising, two sources close to the situation said. .
The teams in red include the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, according to one of the sources. Currently, Diamond stands to lose $20 million annually on San Diego alone, the source added.
The Post in December broke news of the likely bankruptcy filing and Diamond’s plan to reject contracts, which it disputed at the time.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will have the league take over the local broadcasts of the money-losing teams and stream them for free in their respective local markets while he negotiates with their cable companies for lower contracts, a source with knowledge of the discussions said.
MLB has not finalized plans for how fans in the blacked-out markets will be able to watch the free games. Currently, fans can pay to watch out-of-market games through the MLB.TV app.
MLB declined comment.
A spokesperson for Diamond declined to comment when reached by The Post on Sunday.
Even if MLB makes deals with cable providers, it will still offer the over-the-top service for about $15 a month, the source added.
That’s significantly less than the $29.99 Boston Red Sox price per month for streaming, or the $19.99 Bally’s charges in its markets. Diamond does not own the rights to either the Mets or the Yankees, but it does own a minority interest in the YES Network.
MLB recently tried to acquire the rights to all 14 teams that Diamond broadcasts, the two sources said.
“They said no,” a source said.
A source close to Diamond said MLB has not made any new proposals to the company in recent weeks.
Diamond also owns the local rights to 16 National Basketball Association franchises, including the Miami Heat, and 12 National Hockey League teams, including the Detroit Red Wings.
The company plans to broadcast NBA and NHL games until the end of the season and through the first round of the upcoming playoffs and is in active negotiations to do so on an ongoing basis, a source close to the situation said.
The company was formed after Sinclair Broadcast Group paid $10.6 billion for Fox Sports Network’s regional channels in a heavily leveraged buyout in 2019.
About four years later, Diamond may soon find all of its contracts unprofitable when deals with Comcast expire in September and DirectTV in November, sources said.
Cable companies continue to cut the prices they pay for regional sports networks.
As a result, the value of RSNs is rapidly collapsing.
“They are going to be confused,” said one source when the existing contracts come up for renewal.
Last month, Warner Brothers Discovery announced it was cutting rights payments to the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies, whose games are broadcast through AT&T SportsNet.
MLB plans to take over those broadcasts over time, but not by Opening Day, a source close to that situation said, and those games are still expected to be broadcast through AT&T for now.
The plan is for MLB to retain the local announcers who already announce games for their teams when they take over the broadcasts, sources said.
Locally, MSG Networks, which does not broadcast MLB games, has seen its earnings fall and has a debt payment of about $900 million due in October 2024. If it can’t refinance its loans, it will also very likely go bankrupt, sources said.
On March 1, MSG Networks announced the launch of its own MSG+ streaming channel that will charge $10 per game or $30 per month for Knicks and Rangers games.
The combination of cord-cutting and some cable networks choosing not to carry expensive RSNs has limited MLB’s exposure. Only 35% of those living in MLB markets can watch local baseball games on cable TV through regional sports networks.
Last year, 65 million fans attended games, 8% less than the 70 million in pre-pandemic 2018 and far fewer than the peak of 79 million in 2008.