Hoping to watch this season’s Texas Rangers on YouTube TV, Hulu or another TV streaming service?
Unfortunately for fans, the options are slim for tuning in to Thursday’s Rangers’ season opener and roughly 160 other games this season through a lower-cost streaming service. And the same has been true for Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars games.
It’s a frustration fans have dealt with for more than a year now, depending on their TV provider. But a drastic shift in how new corporate owners want to monetize the live sports network formerly known as Fox Sports Regional Networks might mean easier access to your favorite teams’ live games in the future.
Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased 21 Fox Sports Regional Networks — Fox Sports Southwest being one of them — from Disney for $9.6 billion in August 2019.
Then the streaming services Sling TV, FuboTV, YouTube TV and Hulu all dropped the Fox Sports Regional Networks from their packages over the course of 2020, citing the “rising cost of sports programming” and relatively low viewership. And that was mostly before the pandemic threw a wrench into live sports.
Fast forward to November, when the Sinclair conglomerate struck a 10-year deal with Bally, which owns and operates 11 casinos in seven states. It disclosed only some terms of the deal, such as Sinclair having the ability to own a minority stake in Bally and that Bally would contribute cash to Sinclair’s marketing efforts. The deal also gave Bally naming rights.
So on Wednesday, Fox Sports Regional Networks became Bally Sports Regional Networks.
For the time being, the only TV streaming service offering the rebranded Bally Sports Southwest is AT&T TV. Plans for the service start at $84.99 a month with no contract on the AT&T TV “Choice” plan, which is the cheapest package carrying Bally Regional Sports Networks. You can also watch through a plan with traditional cable providers Spectrum, DirecTV, Suddenlink and Grande Communications.
Neither Sinclair Broadcast Group nor Bally responded to The Dallas Morning News’ request for comment.
What does a casino company want to do with almost two dozen live sports channels? If you guessed it had to do with sports betting, you’d be correct.
Sinclair also will relaunch the Fox Sports Go app as Bally Sports. Fans will be able to stream games live with a valid TV provider log in. And the app will eventually allow viewers to place bets on live games and provide an interactive second-screen experience during sports events where betting is legal, according to the company.
Sinclair’s head of local sports, in a statement earlier this year, heralded the partnership as a “transformative chapter in the regional sports business.”
Sinclair also plans to allow fans to subscribe directly to Bally Sports to watch live broadcasts on its regional sports networks without the need for a third-party streaming service or TV provider. That isn’t expected to launch until 2022.
In the meantime, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley told investors recently that the Bally deal could help smooth out its continuing talks with TV providers regarding carriage deals. Carriage deals set fees that providers pay to broadcasters such as Sinclair to air programming such as live sporting events.
“I think this absolutely will be a factor,” Ripley said. “It’s a proven phenomenon, not only from research but from markets overseas that have legalized [sports betting], that … real-money sports betting creates a virtuous circle of viewership. This is going to be a huge megatrend … ultimately making sports and sports rights more valuable.”
Sinclair has exclusive rights to broadcast games for half of all MLB, NBA and NHL teams in the U.S., giving the company some leverage in negotiations with other companies that want to carry its content.
“Sinclair can’t go like this forever,” said Maury Brown, an analyst and Forbes contributor who writes about the business of baseball.
Brown thinks it could be more difficult for Sinclair to negotiate a deal with the likes of YouTube TV this year now that the MLB season has started — but he’s not saying it couldn’t happen.
“Real pressure doesn’t mount [for TV providers] until there’s a significant event. Can Sinclair ink deals with some of these carriers midseason? Maybe. There’s just not a lot of pressure once it gets going,” Brown said. “Major League Baseball opening day is a big deal. The only other sport that kind of has it that way is NASCAR with the Daytona 500. Everything else is postseason — that’s where your largest audience is.”
Brown said he sees the value of integrating sports betting into live coverage but isn’t totally convinced that it will be the answer to seeing successful carriage deals.
The broadcasting giant isn’t the only company trying to wed live sports and gambling. The streaming service FuboTV recently partnered with a sports betting company, called Vigotry.
Most sports betting is still illegal in Texas, but the Legislature is considering a bipartisan bill backed by casinos and sports teams that would legalize not only sports betting but casinos as well. In total, 19 states are considering legalizing sports betting this year, according to CNBC.
|Provider||Is Bally Sports Southwest available?|
|Fios TV by Frontier||No|