If a federal bankruptcy court judge approves — and that’s still a big if — the parent company of Bally Sports Southwest will reject the Rangers’ TV rights in the next month like a scalding bowl of soup.
Nothing could be better for the Rangers.
Or more specifically: Their fans. Hey, that’s you.
At least in the short term. In the long-term: Not good. The ongoing bankruptcy case and likely ultimate dissolution/liquidation of Diamond Sports, which owns the Bally Sports regional sports network brand including BSSW, is going to change the sports industry. Probably not for the better, either. Regardless of how consumers access games in the future, a promised lucrative revenue stream for owners is going to disappear or shrink. When owners lose money, everybody else is going lose, too. Owners don’t go backwards. Those are migraine-inducing conversations for another day.
In the meantime, there is this: Diamond has proposed reorganization plans to the various leagues with which it has broadcasting agreements. The NBA has already agreed so it can get games to fans for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. The NHL is pretty far down the road, too. Both those plans include “modifications,” per the court filings, to the broadcasting rights fees. In other words: “Discounts.” Steep ones. The teams will see significantly less than originally agreed to in terms of actual rights. And that’s the best-case scenario. Imagine if Diamond can’t adhere to its reorg plan.
With MLB, Diamond hasn’t made similar progress. The broadcaster’s current proposed plan goes further. What’s in front of the judge now includes a plan for dropping two teams altogether: the Rangers and Cleveland. Of course, all this might be up to negotiation if, you know, the individual teams were perhaps willing to accept further, um, modifications. Shockingly, MLB doesn’t seem enamored of this plan.
The Rangers are due more than $100 million in 2024. It’s a lot of money and, yes, it does impact planning, but it’s not going to have a major impact on payroll, at least not in the short term. The Rangers went into 2023 knowing they were going to have to fight tooth-and-court filing to get their money and it didn’t stop them from adding more than $200 million in free agent contracts. The reason they probably won’t go as big on free agents this winter isn’t so much TV related as it is just not a great business model to load up on big contracts year after year after year. The splurge was to jump-start the rebuild, not to become an annual occurrence.
That the Rangers did end up with all their monies from Diamond might have been an even bigger miracle than the fact they won their first World Series.
A not insignificant number of their fans weren’t able to follow along on the journey, at least not until national broadcasters took over for the playoffs. Diamond, as you are aware, is further hampered by bad carriage deals that keep their teams off a number of cable providers and Diamond didn’t get streaming rights in the contracts they bought from FOX. Let’s not even get into the wonky app on the services that did carry it.
All of this was a headache the Rangers were willing to endure to squeeze out their full rights for a year. But to go through it again and for less money, to boot, while coming off a world championship with a team ownership knows fans actually want to see?
Maybe not so much.
One way to look at it: If the money isn’t going to be there, it’s hard to see how this situation could be more of a mess in 2024. Almost anything would be better.
So, why not try to get a head start on the future with an attractive product? Perhaps there are options beyond having MLB take over game production, which is what the league did with the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks in mid-season in 2023. It’s not ideal, but it’s an option. If there are other options, they might be more lucrative. If not, it would give you a chance to look at the MLB operation and how it reaches/resonates with fans. It would give you a full year of working on the long-term problem while being better able to market your product.
Financially, it might be awful. For frustrated fans, it may be a win. Happier fans. What a thing.
It’s kind of like Mavs owner Mark Cuban told The Dallas Morning News recently: “We obviously want as many Mavs fans to be able to watch our games.”
“If we could, we’d make the streams available for free and make the broadcast available for free right now,” Cuban added. “But we can’t, we have a contract.”
The Rangers may just find themselves in position to do what Cuban can’t.
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