How is this all going to end?
How is the shakeout of the RSN world going to eventually look as the bankruptcy story of the Diamond Sports Group unfolds?
Well, it’s going to be messy, but we have talked to a lot of people in the industry to try to gauge where it all lands and how it could play with the 47 NBA, MLB, NHL and WNBA team rights that Diamond holds.
Let’s go through it:
1. In the near-term, the major sports, like the NBA, MLB and the NHL are never going to do an all-you-can-eat, one-stop shopping agreement, like Apple TV+’s MLS deal, where every game is in one place.
2. That said, what is next is already upon us. In New York, for example, Yankees games are available not only on YES, but now, this year, you can subscribe without a cable subscription directly to the YES app. MSG with Knicks and local hockey are around the corner with a similar setup. You can only access this in the team’s geographical region.
3. In Phoenix, with the Suns and Mercury, and in Las Vegas, with the Golden Knights, non-national games will be broadcast on free TV, via recent agreements with E.W. Scripps Company.
This Scripps deal is another way teams will go after the collapsing RSN model. While we don’t know the financials of the Scripps contract, it may be for less money than what the RSNs paid. But the teams and leagues are stressing distribution, because it is almost a given that there will be less money, so reaching as many potential fans is a priority.
4. As it stands now, a network app like YES is only available to buy within the market. But will there be a time when you can purchase your favorite teams’ RSN app or team app out of market?
The answer is probably yes. Cable companies will still do local RSN deals, but they will be for less money because they are losing exclusivity with games available to stream in and out of market. There is a needle to be thread.
5. Who will distribute these games? There are two options for leagues: They could try to get a huge figure to have ESPN+, Amazon, Apple TV or someone else to be the exclusive home of these local games.
However, what probably makes more sense to me is to be everywhere, so your games could be found on Amazon, Disney (ESPN) platforms, Apple and other platforms. The more distribution, the better.
That said, if someone writes a big enough check, I could see the leagues going with one entity.
6. In the near-term and maybe longer, though, it is going to be messy, and you won’t have all the games in one place. The NBA, MLB and the NHL are too big and make too much money with their exclusive national games that they are not going to go with the Apple-MLS approach.
Still, while it is unknown if the Apple-MLS deal is successful at this point, it is a very clean way to sell the games. You don’t have to think a lot about it, if you like MLS.
7. The NBA is likely going to do deals with at least three companies, and maybe four or five, when their next TV contracts start in the ’25-26 season.
ESPN, Warner Brothers Discovery, Amazon, Apple, NBC and whomever else is involved are going to have exclusivity for their national games.
So the Suns, for example, will have their games on broadcast TV locally and then, in theory, could try to sell their local, non-national games as a package anywhere in the world. The others, of course, would be exclusive to the national platforms.
This is how I see playing out. At least for now.
ESPN hasn’t yet fully committed to Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick as the NFL game analysts with Chris Fowler on the non-Joe Buck and Troy Aikman “Monday Night Football” games, according to sources. It very well could remain Orlovsky and Riddick, but a name to watch on the No. 2 crew is Robert Griffin III. RGIII is also in line for possible better games on college football with Mark Jones. ESPN is figuring out who will be its analyst on its No. 2 college football team after Todd Blackledge went to NBC to call Big Ten Saturday nights. Greg McElroy is in the mix to be Sean McDonough’s partner on that second broadcast. … It’s NFL and college TV tryout season: Fox Sports recently had Devin McCourty, Chase Daniel, Dirk Koetter, Golden Tate and Gary Patterson in for auditions, according to sources. There may be one or two more. .… Bleav Network has joined the Cumulus Podcast Network. Cumulus will now market and monetize Bleav’s 300 shows, many of which are dedicated to individual teams, such as Carl Banks and Bob Papa’s pod on the Giants. Bleav’s president is Eric Weinberger, formerly of NFL Network and The Ringer. … Pure class by Mike Repole in this TVG interview on the morning of the Kentucky Derby after his horse, Forte, the favorite, was scratched. … Tom Brady and I agreed about fake news. … Brady did a voice-over for NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage.
In my news column last week, in which I reported that Fowler will replace Steve Levy as the play-by-player for the five extra “Monday Night Football games” Joe Buck and Troy Aikman won’t be calling, I called it an odd move. Let’s go a little further as to why:
1. First, here is ESPN’s logic: The NFL is its biggest property, and, in its eyes, Fowler its second best play-by-player. So even though he does the No. 1 college games, it made sense to the network to put him behind Buck on NFL games. Plus, it may make the NFL happy, as some of its executives apparently liked Fowler and Kirk Hebrstreit combo.
2. If ESPN wanted to replace Levy, we would have been more strategic about the whole thing. The position should be used to create a new, younger star play-by-player for two reasons:
A) It would have been smart to use this spot, as ESPN may have been able to retain a Jason Benetti or a Adam Amin with such a carrot. Both left for Fox Sports.
B) Buck’s contract will be up in four years. He already is making $15 million per year. His deal is up after he calls the 2027 Super Bowl. If ESPN wants to have any leverage, it needs an alternative at the ready. This would be a great way to develop such a person. It will surely want to keep Buck, but it may want to create an alternative so it can have a couple of cards in negotiations.
3. What’s unsaid: Fowler is not great as a football play-by-player, including the NFL. He was tremendous as a studio host.
ESPN actually agrees with me on the NFL point, even if they don’t know it. ESPN thinks Buck is so much better than Fowler that it was willing to pay Buck $15 million per year. Troy Aikman wanted Buck to come with him to ESPN, but that wasn’t a prerequisite. If Buck didn’t end up with ESPN, the network’s next target was Al Michaels. So it is hard to think Fowler could ever be an alternative to Buck.
4. Why do this to Levy? He’s an excellent studio guy and has been a team guy, even as he didn’t get a full shot at MNF.
5. We would not have put Levy in the MNF booth when he first got the job. We would have either tried to recruit Ian Eagle or Kevin Burkhardt at some point after Mike Tirico left for NBC. If that didn’t work and we were thinking radically, we would have seen if Dan Shulman or Mike Breen could call NFL games.
That would be a little risky, which would have had me looking at an Amin or a Benetti. We also would have considered Bob Wischusen or Dave Pasch. There is a pretty good argument both are better than Fowler.
6. The move from Levy to Fowler likely won’t make the broadcast appreciably better. Fowler is going to have to find fast chemistry with his new partners. Levy, Riddick and Orlovsky just had a year together. It sometimes takes time to meld.
7. Fowler will not draw better doubleheader games for ESPN. I wouldn’t have made this move.