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Sinclair and Charter Reach Deal, Includes Bally Sports RSNs

Diamond Sports Group
(Image credit: Sinclair)

Sinclair Broadcast Group announced a broad-reaching program licensing agreement with Charter Communications, re-upping retransmission for its local broadcast channels on the nation's No. 2 cable system while also re-establishing carriage for Tennis Channel, 19 Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks, Marquee Sports Network and the YES Network.

The deal was somewhat fait accompli -- word leaked out earlier that both sides were determined to get an agreement made, and several temporary extensions had been carved out without brinkmanship or rhetoric.

In the run-up to the negotiations, Sports Business Daily had notably tagged it "The Biggest Sports Deal of 2022," with its impact potentially determining the fate of a pay TV bundle that has, up to now, largely been held together by the glue of live sports. 

Certainly, the agreement comes at a pivotal time for Sinclair, which is in the process of taking the Bally Sports RSNs over-the-top with a direct-to-consumer streaming service. For now, it means Sinclair can keep its bundle and launch a DTC service at the same time.

Sinclair, which built its Bally Sports portfolio with its purchase of the Fox Sports RSNs three years ago, needs to work off nearly $10 billion in debt for the enterprise. 

It has sold its DTC launch to investors as a means of achieving that objective, but it can't afford for the linear floor to collapse under Bally Sports' feet. 

Notably, last fall Dish Network re-upped retrans for Sinclair broadcast stations but kept the RSNs dark on its satellite TV system. 

Bally Sports networks have also recently gone dark on virtual pay TV services YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and fuboTV. More optimistically, Sinclair was able to carve out a similarly broad-skewing agreement with the No. 1 cable operator, Comcast, in 2021. It's next big pay TV negotiation won't occur until the end of next year, when its DirecTV deal comes up for renewal. 

Terms of the Charter deal -- and any potential compromises made by Sinclair, if any -- were not disclosed.

Among equity analysts there had been skepticism as to whether Sinclair, which manages its Bally Sports channels under its Diamond Sports Group subsidiary (DSG) could reach an agreement with the large cable operator. 

"Imagine being on the Charter management team and hearing that DSG is going over the top on an a-la-carte basis," wrote LightShed Partners' principal Rich Greenfield in January. "Charter has to pay for every single Charter subscriber in a DSG RSN market, despite only a small fraction watching or even caring about their local RSN. Meanwhile Sinclair’s DSG can offer a digital version of the RSN service directly to ONLY those that want it."

Meanwhile, Sinclair continues to hammer away on its DTC plan, the launch for which just got pushed back until later this summer, with most of the Major League Baseball teams covered by Bally Sports channels still not in the fold.

Rob Weisbord, Sinclair COO and president of broadcast, said earlier this month that he's "cautiously optimistic" the roster of Major League Baseball teams participating in the Bally Sports DTC service will soon grow, now that pro baseball's recent labor impasse has ended. 

“I believe that there is a path for a deal to get additional teams. But it takes a lot of conversations to get there and we’re having ongoing dialogue," Weisbord said during a virtual event conducted by the Digital Entertainment Group. ■

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!