Completing a challenging multi-year development process, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports unit has set September 26 as the national launch date for its direct-to-consumer streaming service Bally Sports+.
At $19.99 per month or $189.99 per year, Bally Sports+ will be among the most expensive streaming options on the market, but the company expects many die-hard sports fans who don’t have a pay-TV subscription to enjoy watching their local teams. Bally’s 19 networks, operated by Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group subsidiary, include Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL games, along with an array of college and prep sports. The company says additional pricing options will be rolled out once the service goes live.
At launch, Bally Sports+ will be available on mobile and tablet devices running iOS or Android, Android TV, TvOS and BallySports.com. Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two important streaming gateways in the US, have yet to be accounted for. Strengthening digital distribution will be a priority for Diamond, given that major pay TV operators such as Dish Network and YouTube TV are deadlocked with the company, leaving Bally’s networks dark in those major hubs.
The rollout is a milestone in the sports media business and represents the biggest test yet of whether the lucrative legacy model of regional sports networks can be carried over into the digital age. The networks had long been known as Fox RSNs before rebranding in 2021. When Disney acquired the majority of 21st Century Fox in 2019, it sold off the networks to avoid regulatory issues related to its ownership of ESPN. Sinclair led a coalition of buyers in the $10.6 billion deal. Byron Allen retains a small stake, but Sinclair owns almost 100% of Diamond.
A few months ago, five Bally networks launched streaming offerings. At the same time, Sinclair said it had secured a $635 million financing deal aimed at funding the streaming initiative. In addition to the technical requirements, the company is moving from the long-established pay-TV model – where operators would charge customers seeking access to RSNs – to a direct-to-consumer model. While managing the turnaround, Diamond brought in former Fox Sports and Hulu chief Randy Freer to serve on a new board of managers, along with former NBC, Disney and ESPN executive David Preshlak; Marian Turke, senior adviser to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former league COO; and former NBA and NFL senior executive Bob Whitsitt.
The curtain came down on Covid just months after the completion of the Sinclair-led acquisition of the RSN, which presented a significant challenge. Months of games were wiped from the schedule, leading to a battle for discounts and profits among leagues, network owners and customers. Coming off the worst of the pandemic, viewership trends are encouraging, and with Amazon, Apple, Peacock and others promoting the idea of watching live sports over the Internet, Bali sees an opportunity.
“Today is a significant step for the RSN industry as we offer local sports fans across our Bally Sports imprint a new way to watch their hometown teams,” Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said. “We see Bally Sports+ as a great addition to the incredible value our distribution partners bring to our linear networks; With both models, we are uniquely positioned to help our team partners grow their fan bases for years to come.”
Michael Schneider, chief operating officer and general manager of Bally Sports+, called the national launch “a key moment in the evolution of the RSN, but it’s also a great moment for local fans who now have another option to watch their favorite teams.”