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Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Massive Disruption’ for MLB, NHL Teams: Comcast, DSG Deal Expires

  • The Bally Sports parent and the second-largest U.S. cable distributor fail to come to terms.
  • Comcast has shown a willingness to withstand lengthy periods without certain sports networks.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Diamond Sports Group’s unlikely effort to emerge from bankruptcy—one previously making sizable progress—took a significant hit when it failed to come to terms on a new distribution deal with Comcast, the nation’s second-largest cable carrier. 

The parent of the Bally Sports regional sports networks last month struck a carriage agreement with Charter, the largest distributor in the U.S., is nearing a finalized deal with DirecTV (No. 3), and also renewed this week with smaller operator Cox Communications. But Comcast did not come to terms with the company and a prior deal expired Tuesday night. 

“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 not to exercise,” Comcast said in a statement. “We’d like to continue carrying their networks, but they have declined multiple offers, and we no longer have the rights to this programming.”

MLB teams and their fans are among those feeling the foremost initial brunt of the dispute, as it particularly impacted local coverage of the Braves, Marlins, Tigers, and Twins. But the situation also cut off coverage Tuesday of an NHL playoff game between the Predators and Canucks in the middle of the third period. 

“The Twins are disappointed by this massive disruption for our fans who simply want to watch our games,” the team said. “This situation is a business negotiation between Comcast and [DSG]. The Twins have no role and voice in the matter. We are hopeful the two parties are able to come to an agreement as soon as possible.”

The stakes are high as DSG reconstitutes itself, as the company has said that its prior deals with Charter, Comcast, and DirecTV collectively represent about 81% of its total distribution revenue. A hearing to approve DSG’s reorganization plan is scheduled for June 18.

“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,” DSG said.

In for the Long Haul? 

When, or even if, a new deal between Comcast and DSG can be reached is now quite uncertain. But what isn’t a mystery is Comcast’s willingness to keep certain sports channels dark on its systems indefinitely, if needed.

New York’s MSG Networks—which shows the NHL’s Rangers, Islanders, and Devils as well as the NBA’s Knicks—has been off Comcast homes in New Jersey and Connecticut since 2021. Altitude, which airs the NBA’s Nuggets, NHL’s Avalanche, and NLL’s Mammoth, has been dark on Denver-area Comcast systems since ’19 amid a bitter carriage dispute. YES Network, another New York regional sports network that shows MLB’s Yankees and the NBA’s Nets, was off Comcast for 13 months between ’15 and ’17, and a broader agreement that also included carriage for Fox News was part of the eventual solution there. 

Conversely, Comcast was able to reach new distribution deals recently with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and SportsNet Pittsburgh with far less acrimony, but only because both of those outlets agreed to be placed on more expensive and less broadly distributed tiers.

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