MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred poured cold water on Sinclair’s efforts to build a direct-to-consumer streaming service from its regional sports networks business.
During an appearance at CAA World Congress of Sports, Manfred said that Sinclair—through its Diamond Sports subsidiary—does not have sufficient digital rights for launching such a service, and that it’s also not currently in a position to offer sports wagering through that service.
“We've been very clear with them from the beginning that we see both those sets of rights as extraordinarily valuable to baseball, and we're not just going to throw them in to help Sinclair out,” he said, according to Sports Business Journal.
That statement contradicts information that Sinclair has put forth about its sports streaming efforts. In May, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said his company has cleared a path with distributors to launch a direct-to-consumer product and added that it has direct-to-consumer rights for most of the teams represented by its RSNs.
“We are in discussions with the leagues and the teams about enhancing some of those rights to make the product even better,” he said. “That’s what’s going on right now and I don’t see that being a threat to timing. The plan is to launch in the first half of 2022.”
Manfred, in contrast, said that MLB believes those digital rights are crucial and, though it may partner with other companies to eventually build a direct-to-consumer streaming product, it will want to own and control the platform.
In 2019, Sinclair closed its $9.6 billion deal to buy 21 Fox Sports RSNs, which have since been rebranded as Bally Sports. The company also owns and operates Marquee Sports Network, the television home for Chicago Cubs broadcasts.
As cord cutting and carriage impasses with distributions have put pressure on the RSN business model, Sinclair has sought to take the networks directly to consumers through a streaming app. The company predicted a Bally Sports streaming service could eventually attract approximately 4.4 million subscribers and generate around $2 billion in annual revenue. About 1.7 million subscribers to the service would be from the cord-cutter/cord-never category and another approximately 1.4 million would be non-RSN subscribers from its distributor partners. About 1.3 million subscribers would come from current subscribers to its Bally Sports networks.