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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Diamond Sports Group Secures Lifeline With Amazon Deal

  • Bankrupt RSN operator sees pathway to solvency, but programming is unsettled.
  • Bally Sports networks to be rebranded.
The Augusta Chronicle

The bankrupt Diamond Sports Group has given itself a significant lifeline by restructuring much of its debt, striking a major investment and content distribution deal with Amazon, and settling a thorny legal dispute with corporate parent Sinclair Inc. 

But just as some questions are being answered, more are emerging—namely, what the Bally Sports regional sports networks that DSG owns and operates will broadcast long-term.

A status conference held Wednesday in DSG’s bankruptcy case contained lots of celebration among many of the involved parties, with the deals cheered as the first time a potential pathway back to solvency—and operation beyond 2024—has truly emerged for the company. But the restructuring agreements are predicated in part on undoing recent deals DSG struck with the NBA and NHL that would return local media rights to those leagues after the 2023-24 season—pacts based on a prior assumption that DSG would be ceasing operations.

Neither league has commented yet on whether it agrees with DSG’s new path and whether it will contest the plan in a bid to keep the regained rights. MLB is also evaluating the restructuring after seeing its prior negotiations with the company cut off as the new deals emerged. DSG shows 37 teams overall across the NBA, NHL, and MLB. If the bankruptcy court approves this new structure, DSG’s existing rights deals would remain in effect. 

“All of this came as a surprise, we knew nothing about it,” said Jim Bromley, a lawyer for MLB, in Wednesday’s court hearing.

Prime Entry

In addition to DSG restructuring $450 million in debt, Amazon is set to invest $115 million in bankruptcy exit financing, receiving 15% of the company. Within nine months after completion of the restructuring plan, Amazon will have an option to invest a further $50 million in DSG. 

The agreement will establish Amazon Prime Video as DSG’s “primary partner” for fans to access the regional sports networks on a direct-to-consumer basis and moves Amazon further into regional sports beyond existing national-level deals with the NFL, NASCAR, and fighting promotion Premier Boxing Champions. 

Amazon has not commented publicly on the DSG deal, but company outside counsel Caroline Reckler said in the status conference that Amazon is “excited about this transaction and the possibilities it provides.” Amazon’s entry is also expected to boost DSG’s DTC revenue from last year’s $49 million to a projected $658 million in 2026. 

Bye Bye, Bally

The new pathway for DSG additionally will bring with it a new name. DSG lawyers disclosed during Wednesday’s status conference that a plan is in place to sunset the Bally Sports name by the end of 2024, by mutual consent with the Bally’s casino company. Bally’s originally struck the $85 million naming rights deal in 2020, but the 10-year pact—which also included stock warrants—will end six years early. The shift will allow DSG to rebrand the RSNs for their presumed post-bankruptcy life. 

A planned Jan. 19 hearing in the DSG bankruptcy case is no longer going forward, and DSG is now targeting being back in court as soon as Jan. 24 following a new set of pleadings.

“The fact that the company is moving in a direction that it sees this path forward I think certainly is a positive update,” said bankruptcy court judge Christopher Lopez. “But again, it’s got to satisfy the code and the evidentiary standards.”

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