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Volume 25 No. 177
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MLB May Seek Backers For Bid To Acquire 22 Disney-Fox RSNS

Some MLB teams have countered with claims that they, not MLB, own the rights to their games
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB could "attract financial backers" for a bid for the 22 Fox Sports RSNs put up for sale by Disney -- which the league would "clearly need" with Fox setting a floor price of $20B -- with claims on streaming rights to all MLB games, according to sources cited by Morgan & Kosman of the N.Y. POST. But sources said that some MLB teams have "countered with claims that they, not MLB, own the streaming rights to their games, setting the stage for potential legal tussles." MLB ownership of the RSNs would "dramatically change the league's business model, putting it much deeper into ad and subscription fees -- a business far afield from staging nine-inning games" (N.Y. POST, 11/29). MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said of whether MLB wants its teams to control their own local TV rights, "We're very interested in the RSN sale process and have preferences in terms of who the owners are going to be. Candidly, we're looking at the RSNs ourselves." The league said that it did not have any context to add beyond Manfred's quote. Disney is selling the 22 RSNs as a condition of its purchase of 21st Century Fox' entertainment assets. The first round of bids have been accepted, but it is unclear who has formally submitted a bid. Fox Sports and NBC Sports declined to submit formal bids. Several companies, including Amazon, have expressed interest in buying YES Network on its own (John Ourand, THE DAILY).

CHANGE IS COMING: In Hartford, Alex Putterman notes Amazon's involvement with YES Network "wouldn't likely change much about the network's existing linear-TV product, at least in the short-term." However, as the industry "shifts further and further toward streaming services that serve cord-cutters, Amazon could help YES grow its digital presence, either by hosting Yankees games and other YES programming behind the Amazon Prime paywall or by offering expertise in the development of a YES app." Former CBS Sports President of Programming Jay Rosenstein said, "If Amazon does make a play for it, make an investment in it, become a majority or minority owner, I think they'll use it as a laboratory, but I don't think they'll make any significant changes in the short-term" (COURANT.com, 11/29). VARIETY's Cynthia Littleton wrote the advent of digital streaming and entry of tech giants with deep pockets is "starting to upend the broadcast TV business's traditional local-national partnership structure." The latest round of "asset-swapping and empire-building that will rev up before year's end promises to change the economic underpinnings of local TV even more." Cowen & Company media analyst Doug Creutz said that he sees the notion of regional sports "changing as the streaming giants move into the arena." Creutz said, "They're regional channels, but what does that even mean if you're planning to offer them online? You can easily contemplate a scenario where at one price you get your local network and people who are massive sports fans can pay more for a bigger package of sports options." Littleton wrote another "big question" surrounding the RSNs -- and other similar channels -- is "whether they are a melting ice cube when it comes to asset value" (VARIETY.com, 11/27).