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Comcast drops Bally RSNs, injecting more chaos into sports TV landscape

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Just as Diamond Sports Group and its Bally regional sports networks seemed to be making progress in a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, the process took a major turn for the worse Tuesday — and some baseball fans across 12 markets are out in the cold.

Comcast has dropped the Bally RSNs in a carriage dispute, meaning subscribers to Comcast-owned Xfinity cannot watch the teams carried on Bally channels until the dispute is resolved. 

Diamond carries 12 MLB teams: the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers. Diamond has 38 teams across MLB, the NBA and NHL.

“We have been very flexible with Diamond Sports Group for months as they work through their bankruptcy proceedings, providing them with an extension on the Bally Sports Regional Networks last fall and a unilateral right to extend the term for another year, which they opted to not exercise,” Comcast said in a statement. “We’d like to continue carrying their networks, but they have declined multiple offers and now we no longer have the rights to this programming. We will proactively credit our customers for the costs associated with them — most will automatically receive $8 to $10 per month in credits.”

Said Diamond in a statement: “It’s disappointing that Comcast rejected a proposed extension that would have kept our channels on the air and that Comcast instead pulled the signals, preventing fans from watching their favorite local teams. Comcast has refused to engage in substantive discussions despite Diamond offering terms similar to those reached with much larger distributors of ours. We are a fans-first company and will continue to seek an agreement with Comcast to restore broadcasts, and at this critical juncture for Diamond, we hope that Comcast will recognize the important and mutually beneficial role Diamond and RSNs play in the media ecosystem.

“In the meantime, fans in Comcast regions can access our networks through subscriptions to Fubo, DirecTV or DirecTV STREAM or through our direct-to-consumer offering, Bally Sports+ for the teams for which Diamond retains DTC rights.”

MLB declined comment. 

Diamond is in the middle of a protracted bankruptcy process, and a confirmation hearing for a restructuring plan that could help it avoid liquidation is set for June. But one of the keys for that plan to be successful is Diamond reaching an agreement with major distributors, such as Comcast. Diamond has told a federal bankruptcy court in Houston that about 81 percent of its distribution revenue is tied to three companies: Charter, Comcast and DirecTV. A deal has been announced with Charter, and another with DirecTV is near, a person briefed on the process said — but a fight with Comcast is nonetheless a major issue.

The choices Diamond and Comcast make from here, then, will affect fans’ ability to watch games immediately and could significantly impact the overall RSN landscape in the long term.

MLB has been skeptical all along of Diamond’s ability to emerge from bankruptcy with a viable long-term plan.

“MLB and the Clubs question whether the Debtors will be able to demonstrate to the Court that confirmation of the Plan is not likely to be followed by the liquidation, or further financial reorganization,” the league said in a written court filing last month.

GO DEEPER

Blackout of Twins games due to Bally Sports-Comcast dispute the latest blow for team’s fans

(Photo: David Berding / Getty Images)

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