UPDATED: This story was revised on 12/15/2022 to reflect several clarifications.
MARINA DEL REY, Calif. -- Representing 42 major league pro sports teams across its 19 regional sports networks, Sinclair Broadcast Group's recently launched direct-to-consumer streaming service, Bally Sports Plus, is one of the most closely observed entities right now the sports media business.
Despite all of its pro sports star power, the nascent $20-a-month DTC service, which launched nationally in September, enjoyed one of its biggest sign-up day ever on Nov. 25, when it exclusively streamed the California CIF Southern Section high school football championship game featuring what are considered the two top prep teams in the country, powerful St. John Bosco of Bellflower, Calif. and perennial giant Mater Dei of nearby Santa Ana.
Jack Wilson, director of digital content and post-production for Bally Sports, made the revelation Tuesday on a panel of sports media pros at research company Parks Associates' Future of Video event.
The two teams actually met earlier in an anticipated Oct. 7 regular season matchup, which was won by Mater Dei 17-7.
Bally Sports SoCal, home of the NBA's L.A. Clippers, Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels, and the NHL's L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks. presented the game regionally on its linear RSN and Bally Sports Plus geolocated streaming.
Given that so many of the athletes in that Oct. 7 game were four- and five-star-rated players on their way to big college football programs dispersed all around the country, Bally Sports offered the game to the 18 other Bally Sports linear RSNs who had the willingness and the program scheduling ability to accommodate it.
Surprised by the linear uptake and viewership, Wilson said Bally Sports saw the championship rematch, ultimately won by Bosco this time, as an "opportunity to test exclusive content."
The CIF title contest was again offered to all Bally Sports channels. And on the three-month-old Bally Sports Plus service, the event drove the fifth biggest signup day overall, usurped only by the period surrounding the start of the NBA season in late October.
Performance was understandably strong in Southern California, one of the most active regions in the nation for prep football. But football fans in the Bally Sports Ohio and Great Lakes region also drove the uptake, with players on both rosters being recruited by Ohio State University.
On Tuesday's panel, Wilson overstated the performance as driving the top signup day for Bally Sports Plus -- a fact that was later corrected by headquarters. But the event still created a notable usage spike. And it remains an interesting anomaly, given the disrupted RSN business and its reliance on expensive pro sports licensing.
Sinclair and the subsidiary that manages Bally Sports and Bally Sports Plus, Diamond Sports Group, have been reluctant to discuss specific uptake numbers for the new DTC service.
But with Bally Sports linear viewers down 10% year over year, the exclusive revealed one interesting, cost-effective way the streaming service might grow its audience in the coming months.
Beyond that, Wilson -- who worked for Fox Sports RSNs when it was purchased for $9.6 billion by Sinclair three years ago -- said the challenge of growing Bally Sports Plus is to appeal to local sports fans beyond the level of cord-cutting.
"We're trying to re-engage those fans who have moved away from pay TV," Wilson said. "They may have quit DirecTV, but as long as we can figure a way to make that price point, it does’t mean they love their team less. They just could stomach the bill anymore."
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Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!