Capping a challenging multi-year development process, Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s regional sports unit has set September 26 as the nationwide launch date for direct-to-consumer streaming service Bally Sports+.
At $19.99 a month or $189.99 a year, Bally Sports+ will be one of the most expensive streaming options on the market, but the company expects plenty of diehard sports fans who don’t have pay-TV subscriptions to watch their local teams. Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL games, including a range of college and prep sports, on 19 Bally networks operated by Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group subsidiary. More pricing options will be released once the service goes live, the company said.
Initially, Bally Sports+ will be available on mobile and tablet devices running iOS or Android, Android TV, TvOS, and BallySports.com. Still, Roku and Amazon Fire TV, the two most important gateways to streaming in the U.S., will be a priority for Diamond to account for digital distribution as big pay-TV operators like Dish Network and YouTube TV are at a standstill. The company, leaving Bally Networks in the dark at those key hubs.
The rollout is a milestone in the sports media business and represents today’s biggest test of whether the lucrative legacy model of regional sports networks can be transferred to the digital age. The networks were long known as Fox RSNs before rebranding in 2021. When Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox in 2019, it sold the networks to avoid regulatory problems associated with owning ESPN. Sinclair led a coalition of buyers in the $10.6 billion transaction. Byron Allen holds a small stake, but Sinclair owns almost 100% of Diamond.
Several months ago, five Bally networks rolled out streaming offerings. At the same time, Sinclair said it had secured a $635 million financing arrangement aimed at financing streaming initiatives. In addition to technical requirements, the company is transitioning from the long-established model of pay-TV — in which operators would charge subscribers seeking access to RSNs — to a direct-to-consumer model. As it navigates the shift, Diamond has brought in former Fox Sports and Hulu boss Randy Freer to serve on a new board of managers, along with former NBC, Disney and ESPN executive David Pryslak; Marianne Turke, senior adviser to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former COO of the league; and former senior NBA and NFL executive Bob Whitsheet.
The Covid-19 outbreak, which fell just months after the completion of the Sinclair-led takeover of RSNs, posed a significant challenge. Months of games were scrubbed from the schedule, resulting in a scramble for discounts and make-goods among leagues, network owners and subscribers. Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, with viewership trends buoyant and Amazon, Apple, Peacock and others popularizing the idea of watching live games via the Internet, Bally sees an opportunity.
“Today marks an important step for the RSN industry as we offer local sports fans a new way to watch their hometown teams in our Bally Sports footprint,” said Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley. “We see Bally Sports+ as a great complement to the incredible value our distribution partners provide across our linear networks; And with both models, we are uniquely positioned to help our team partners grow their fan bases for years to come. “
Michael Snyder, COO and GM of Bally Sports+, called the nationwide launch “a key moment in the evolution of RSNs, but it’s also a great moment for local fans who now have another viewing option for their favorite teams.”