Thanks in large part to federal regulations meant to prevent media consolidation, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Donald Trump-favored media company that infamously forced its local news anchors to read mindless Trumpian statements about the dangers of “fake news” on-air, has ended up further consolidating its ownership of media. What a happy turn of events!
As reported on Friday, Sinclair is finalizing a deal to buy 21 regional sports networks from Disney for a reported $10.6 billion, less than the initially forecasted $16 to $20 billion price tag. Disney acquired the RSNs from Fox in 2017 as part of its $71.3 billion takeover of much of Fox’s media empire, but was forced by the Department of Justice to divest the networks last year after the FCC ruled that Disney’s ownership of both ESPN and the RSNs would decrease competition in sports broadcasting, effectively creating a monopoly. (Sinclair’s acquisition of the RSNs, which will reportedly be formed into a Sinclair subsidiary called Diamond Sports Group and run by comedian-turned-aspiring-media-mogul Byron Allen, will also have to be approved.)
Sinclair adds the 21 networks—and with them the rights to 14 MLB teams, 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL team—to a sports-media portfolio that includes Tennis Channel, the company which recently declined to fire analyst Justin Gimelstob after he pleaded no-contest to a violent attack; Stadium, the conflict-of-interest-ridden sports TV service owned by Chicago Bulls and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf; and wrestling promotion company Ring of Honor, which Sinclair censored earlier this year after an independent wrestler posted a match promo that bashes Sinclair’s political leanings. Sinclair is also in the final stages of a $3.5 billion deal to become a part-owner of the Yankees-affiliated YES Network, and recently announced it will partner with the Chicago Cubs to create a channel to exclusively show their games.
With the new sports channels coming under Sinclair’s purview, it’s worth asking just what level of control Sinclair will seek to exact over the properties given its history of micromanaging local news stations. Unfortunately, and perhaps not coincidentally, the Washington Post’s softball interview with Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley didn’t get around to this point. The Post story gives Ripley plenty of room to talk about what a smart move the deal was for Sinclair—“I fundamentally believe that sports rights will be valuable for the foreseeable future and will continue to increase in value,” he said, evidently not concerned with the cord-cutting that has crippled cable giants with live sports rights like ESPN—and then self-righteously hand-waved any concerns about Sinclair’s obvious political bent. Ripley said:
“First of all, I take umbrage that there’s anything wrong with our news reporting. But setting that aside, is it a chance to rebrand the company? I think in many ways that is true. But you’re not going to see any of these networks branded as Sinclair Sports. We’re not a front-facing brand and never will be.”
If there was a follow-up question asked, it wasn’t included in the Post’s story.
Though it seems reasonably sure that Sinclair won’t inflict its toxic branding on Cubs fans, it’s unclear what these latest acquisitions will mean for sports fans at large. There could be some good things: Some cable providers haven’t carried regional sports networks because the fees to do so are too high (for example, a standoff in 2015 between Comcast and the YES Network meant the cable provider didn’t air Yankees games for a year), and Sinclair, according to the Post article, thinks it can lower these costs and leverage “good relationships with distributors” to sell RSN-including bundles. Even if this ends up being the case, to go by examples like last year’s awful Tennis Channel coverage of the French Open, what fans end up being able to watch may be pretty lousy anyway.