Since taking over as president of Local Sports in July of 2020, Steve Rosenberg has found himself in a closely watched position that will have important implications both for the broadcaster and the future of regional sports networks.
Sinclair partnered with media entrepreneur Byron Allen to purchase the Fox Sports Regional Networks in 2019 for $9.6 billion from The Walt Disney Co. following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. At the time, there were already concerns about the future of regional sports networks, given the rising cost of sports rights and the impact of cord-cutting on subscriber fees. Those issues became much more worrisome with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically reduced the amount of live sports. Dish, Sling, YouTube TV, Hulu and fuboTV have dropped the channels from their lineups.
In its Q3 2020 earnings, Sinclair wrote down the value of its RSNs by $4.2 billion and reported that it will have to pay $371 million in rebates in 2020 to MVPDs for failing to deliver enough live sports. The Wall Street Journal has also reported debt-restructuring talks between lenders and the Diamond Sports, the Sinclair subsidiary that runs the channels.
Since then, promising news from vaccine trials has pushed up Sinclair’s stock and Sinclair executives remain bullish on the RSNs’ prospects. On Sinclair’s Q3 2020 earnings calls, President and CEO Chris Ripley stressed: “We’re very excited about the growth opportunities we have with the RSN [regional sports networks] .... [S]ports betting … we think is going to be a game-changer. And we intend on reinventing the RSNs around gamification, around community-based fandom and around direct-to-consumer [streaming apps].”
To implement those strategies, Rosenberg brings an impressive resumé with experience working in the television, entertainment and sports industry, including a 20-year stint at Universal. He also has a particularly strong background in distribution, marketing and sales that will help the networks find new audiences and revenue streams.
Turnaround hopes depend on the impact of COVID-19. How quickly the 42 major league teams that supply games to the networks can resume full game schedules in 2021 remains an open question. Sinclair declined to comment for this profile.
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