A couple tangential TV notes for you today involving Sinclair Broadcasting, the Cubs’ distribution partner in the upcoming Marquee Network (i.e., their new cable channel). This seems to all be going somewhere.
First up, Sinclair formally closed on its purchase of the 21 Fox RSNs being sold by Disney, making Sinclair the largest single owner of baseball-carrying RSNs:
The deal is expected to transform Sinclair, more than doubling its revenue and making the nation’s largest owner of television stations more of a sports broadcaster. https://t.co/pPOG32trgL
— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) August 24, 2019
Adding to that, it turns out that although the YES Network (Yankees channel) was separated from the rest of the Fox RSN sale and primarily sold back to the Yankees, Sinclair got in on that deal, too. And there’s another strategic partner involved that should be of particular note:
“This transaction brings @YESNetwork & all of its popular programming even closer to the organization that inspired its very development…. We look forward to greatly expanding the way that sports content is delivered & consumed by fans everywhere.” – Hal Steinbrenner pic.twitter.com/paatx4m9bx
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) August 29, 2019
Ignore the word salad there, and take away this primary highlight: Sinclair is now an owner of, or a partner with, 16 RSNs that carry MLB team games … or a majority of the league. Moreover, they and the Yankees explicitly partnered with a digital streaming service (Amazon) in their deal, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that is coming for the Cubs and Marquee as well.
What could that functionally mean for fans? Well, for now, the model all remains the same: teams sell their broadcast rights to local cable networks (the RSNs), and the games are locally blacked out on streaming services unless you’re an authenticated subscriber of that channel. If you’re out of market, however, you can stream via the various platforms, including MLB.tv.
But if bigger and bigger teams like the Yankees and Cubs want more streaming options, and if a partner that distributes the games for more than half the league (Sinclair) wants it, too … we might FINALLY see some serious change in the way games are made available to fans. The old cable model is great for teams, but the world is simply changing too much for MLB to allow itself to be tied to that model forever.
I wouldn’t expect RAPID change on this front, but it’s pretty clear, to me at least, that balls are in motion.