Capturing a challenging multi-year development process, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports unit has set September 26 as the nationwide launch date for its Bally Sports+ direct-to-consumer streaming service.
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 pay TV subscriptions to move to watch their local teams. The 19 Bally networks operated by Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group subsidiary feature Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL games, along with a variety of college and prep sports. The company says additional pricing options will be released once the service goes live.
Initially, Bally Sports+ will be available on mobile and tablet devices running iOS or Android, Android TV, TvOS and BallySports.com. Still to be reckoned with are Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two important gateways to streaming in the U.S. Digital distribution will be a priority for Diamond given that major pay-TV operators like Dish Network and YouTube TV have been a lockout with the company, leaving the Bally networks dark in those key hubs.
The show is a historic moment in the sports media business and represents the biggest test to date of whether the profitable legacy model of regional sports networks can be transferred to the digital age. The networks were long known as the Fox RSNs before rebranding in 2021. When Disney bought most of 21st Century Fox in 2019, it sold the networks to avoid regulatory issues related to its ownership of ESPN. Sinclair led a coalition of buyers in the $10.6 billion transaction. Byron Allen holds a small stake, but Sinclair owns nearly 100% of Diamond.
A few months ago, five Bally networks rolled out streaming deals. At the same time, Sinclair said it had secured a $635 million financing deal aimed at funding the broadcast initiative. In addition to the technology requirements, the company is moving from the long-established pay-TV model – in which operators would charge fees to customers seeking access to RSNs – to a direct-to-consumer model. As it moves through the turnaround, Diamond has 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 Preschlack; Maryann Turcke, a senior adviser to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former league COO; and former top NBA and NFL executive Bob Whitsitt.
The Covid curtain fell just months after the Sinclair-led acquisition of RSNs closed, presenting a significant challenge. Months of games were wiped from the schedule, resulting in a scramble for discounts and good merchandise among leagues, network owners and customers. Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, viewership trends have been encouraging, and with Amazon, Apple, Peacock and others popularizing the idea of watching live sports over the Internet, Bally sees an opportunity.
“Today is an important step for the RSN industry as we offer local sports fans across our Bally Sports footprint a new way to watch their hometown teams,” said Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley . “We see Bally Sports+ as a great complement to the incredible value our distribution partners provide to 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 Schneider, 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.”