Sinclair happy with early response to Bally Sports+ RSN service, plans September full launch

After a June soft launch of Bally Sports+ in five regions, Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group plans to expand its direct-to-consumer streaming service across all 19 of the Bally regional sports networks on September 26.   

The RSN streaming service is priced at around $20 per month or $190 for an annual subscription, following a seven-day free trial. Sinclair, which is separating out its wholly-owned Diamond Sports subsidiary, said additional pricing options will be available when the service launches.

The full launch of Bally Sports+ means viewers in the remaining 16 regions will be able to watch their local teams including: Bally Sports Arizona, Great Lakes, Indiana, Midwest, Nor Orleans, North, Ohio, Oklahoma, San Diego, SoCal, South, Southeast, Southwest and West.  

Since June 23 the streaming service has been available for Bally Sports RSN regions covering MLB teams in Milwaukee, Miami, Tampa, Detroit, and Kansas City.

With a direct-to-consumer offering, viewerswithin the Bally Sports RSN coverage areas can watch live games and other content without the need for a pay TV subscription.

“Today is a significant step for the RSN industry as we offer local sports fans across our Bally Sports footprint a new way to watch their hometown teams,” said Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, in a statement.

He added that Sinclair sees Bally Sports+ “as a great complement to the incredible value our distribution partners provide our linear networks; and with both models, we are uniquely positioned to help our team partners grow their fan bases for years to come.”

Speaking Thursday on a Diamond Sports Q2 earnings update call, Ripley said that as with most soft launches, there was minimal spending or promotion for Bally Sports+ as the company ensures technology and consumer experience are excellent – and the company is seeing higher early uptake of the service than expected.

“We are very pleased with how the soft launch has gone so far,” Ripley said, adding that the product has been performing with few technical errors and speedy customer service response times. “Despite almost no marketing, early subscription volumes have been better than we expected and subscriber engagement on the platform is strong.”

Ripley didn’t provide any specific figures for how many have signed up, but executives said everything they’ve seen so far “gives us conviction around our long-term targets” of reaching up to 5-10 million subscribers.

According to Ripley, 74% of consumers who subscribed to Bally Sports+ converted to paid users after the end of a 7-day free trial. And on average, Sinclair is seeing DTC subscribers watch approximately 33% more minutes than TVEverywhere app viewers, he noted.

Ahead of the wider launch next month, Ripley said Diamond will be ramping up advertising and promotion for Bally Sports+.

The service will launch broadly for the 2022-2023 NBA and NHL seasons, and subscribers will have access to live, local NBA and NHL broadcasts, pre- and post-game shows, regionally produced programming including college football, basketball, and high school sports, and Bally Sports’ “The Rally” and “Live on the Line, Powered by Bet MGM.”

In addition to content airing on the linear RSNs, DTC subscribers will get interactive capabilities like stats overlays and in-game engagement features. The experience is currently the same as subscribers to the TVEverywhere app (which requires pay TV provider login credentials) receive.

Sinclair will roll out enhanced DTC capabilities in subsequent iterations of the service, some of which the it’s already been testing, according to Ripley. That includes viewer participation in polls, trivia and other elements – which users look to be engaging with.

“The initial findings show that a significant percentage of viewers take advantage of these features, engaging activity beyond just looking at the screen,” the chief executive said Thursday. “This interaction is an important aspect of this business model, engaging younger viewers and enabling us to grow incremental revenue streams.”

Initially Bally Sports+ is only available on iOS or Android mobile and tablet devices, Android TV, TvOS and at BallySports website. Michael Schneider, COO and GM of Bally Sports+, in a statement called the launch of the streaming service across 19 regions, each with unique content offerings, “an unprecedented undertaking.”

“This full introduction marks a key moment in the evolution of RSNs, but it is also a great moment for local fans who now have another viewing option for their favorite teams,” he continued.

Sinclair wasn’t the first to delve into the DTC world for regional sports networks. Ahead of Bally Sports+ soft launch, New England Sports Network (NESN) this summer debuted its own RSN streaming service priced at about $30 per month or $330 for an annual subscription.  NESN 360 is only available to fans in the New England area, bringing live games of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins to viewers outside of a pay TV subscription.