FuboTV signs carriage deal for 19 Bally Sports RSNs

Virtual MVPD FuboTV is expanding its sports coverage for local fans, adding 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSN) under a carriage deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The Bally Sports RSNs, which are owned and operated by Sinclair subsidiary Diamond Sports Group, will join FuboTV’s live streaming TV lineup in the coming weeks. The latest agreement brings Fubo’s RSN count to over 35.

In a statement, FuboTV chief business officer Henry Ahn said that “RSNs are integral to FuboTV’s sports-first content strategy and our mission to superserve local passionate sports fans. We are very pleased to bring Fubo subscribers significant local sports coverage through our partnership with Bally Sports, the nation’s leader in local sports rights.”

He went on to say that Sinclair has been a great partner and the companies were able to reach a deal “that is meaningful and beneficial for both sides.”

The new agreement builds on an existing deal with Sinclair that includes carriage of local broadcast stations, the Tennis Channel, and Marquee Sports Network.

“FuboTV has long been associated with connecting sports fans to their favorite teams and we are thrilled to be expanding our partnership to include the Bally Sports regional sports networks across their platform, providing Fubo’s subscribers with streaming access to their favorite hometown Bally Sports teams,” said Will Bell, SVP, head of distribution and network relations, at Sinclair, in a statement.

Regional networks now part of Fubo’s TV package for subscribers in their respective local markets include: Bally Sports Arizona, Bally Sports Detroit, Bally Sports Florida, Bally Sports Great Lakes, Bally Sports Indiana, Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, Bally Sports New Orleans, Bally Sports North, Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Oklahoma, Bally Sports San Diego, Bally Sports SoCal, Bally Sports South, Bally Sports Southeast, Bally Sports Southwest, Bally Sports Sun, Bally Sports West and Bally Sports Wisconsin.

For FuboTV, which positions itself as a sports-focused live TV service, the deal brings more key sports coverage for local fans. Fubo earlier this year signed a deal with RSN Altitude Sports, delivering Colorado Avalanche and  Denver Nuggets games to viewers in 10 Rocky Mountain states.

In addition to catering to fans’ favorite teams in local markets, Fubo offers national networks such as ESPN, FS1, CBS Sports Network, and the Pac-12 Networks, among others. Fubo has also been rounding out its news and entertainment channels, a day earlier announcing a carriage deal with Scripps Networks for seven networks including ION.

RSNs face challenges

FuboTV’s carriage deal with Sinclair’s Bally Sports comes as RSNs try to be profitable amid changes in the TV and sports rights world.

Continued cord cutting, alongside rising sports rights costs, have meant challenges for regional sports networks looking for league and carriage deals, as well as avid fans who can’t get access to their local teams as pay TV providers dropped pricey RSNs from their lineups to avoid high carriage fees that are passed to consumers.

Sinclair’s Bally Sports have struggled since the broadcaster purchased them from Disney for around $9.6 billion in 2019. In early December, Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group named former NBCUniversal exec David Preschlack as CEO, reflecting further independence for the subsidiary which separated financials from Sinclair earlier this year. Along with financial issues, the Bally Sports RSNs have faced strained league relationships, with Sports Business Journal reporting that creditors were frustrated by developing friction between Sinclair and certain leagues, particularly the MLB.  

As viewers shift to streaming, some RSNs – including Bally Sports – have looked to direct-to-consumer as one avenue. Bally Sports+ DTC streaming service debuted in September after a soft launch over the summer, at a price of about $20 per month or $190 per year. NESN regional sports network was first out of the gate with a DTC subscription service for live games of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins, which launched in June and is priced around $30 per month.

Others, meanwhile, are looking to shift distribution to streaming services including NBCUniversal, which has been negotiating rights to move its RSNs to Peacock, per Bloomberg.

In a December column on Fierce Video, TVREV co-founder and analyst Alan Wolk highlighted RSNs bumpy road to streaming and explained the value of RSN fans for TV providers – as those viewers “tend to be hardcore.”

“They are fans of a particular pro baseball, basketball or hockey team and will gladly pay to watch every single game their team plays,” wrote Wolk of RSN viewers. “This makes them a very valuable subscriber base, as they are highly unlikely to churn.”

And he views NBCU moving five major market RSNs to streaming via Peacock as a “a great move for all parties.”

“The teams in question get a way to reach younger audiences who won’t need to pay over $100/month for cable just to get the RSN (Peacock will be just $10/month) while Peacock gets a whole bunch of new subscribers who are unlikely to churn and, like swallows to Capistrano, will return at the start of every season even if they do,” wrote Wolk.

However, the scenario isn’t so rosy for MVPDs carrying those RSNs, he noted, “which, by all accounts, are the reason many of those fans still pay for cable.”