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Sinclair Reports Mixed Results as Pandemic Impacts Sports Networks

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Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Sinclair Broadcast Group reported mixed results for its third quarter of 2020 as the acquisition of several local sports networks hit its balance sheet. 

The Hunt Valley-based broadcaster recorded revenues of $1.54 billion, up 37% compared to last year. That beat analyst expectations by 2.8%, according to Zacks Equity Research.

However, the broadcaster took a $4.23 billion impairment charge related to the value of its regional sports networks. Sinclair paid $9.6 billion in August 2019 for 21 regional sports channels that were once part of Fox.

In total, the company reported a loss of $3.2 billion for the July to September period.

Sinclair, which owns the largest portfolio of local TV stations in the U.S., dramatically increased its sports networks holdings in 2019. But as the pandemic put a stop to live sports, it has since struggled to generate revenue. 

The company was dealt a huge blow when YouTube TV and Hulu dropped its RSNs. The loss of two virtual distributors led to a decline of 10% in gross distribution revenue along digital subscribers for the broadcaster. 

“The loss of these two virtual distributors elevated subscriber churn and the impact of COVID in the economy have contributed to us taking the non-cash impairment charge this quarter and the segment,” Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said. 

But as digital distribution stifled revenue growth, the company has expanded into different territories. Sinclair plans to launch a new sports app by the start of the MLB season in spring, which will help the company introduce sports betting and other monetization opportunities. 

“The increased functionality the app will allow for greater activity and superior viewing experience that we expect will eventually include the ability to participate in sports betting and other gamification activities, such as social games focused on fandom,” Ripley said.

The company continues to look at COVID-19 headwinds in regards to its sports networks business, but remains optimistic by expanding into other ways of generating revenue. Sinclair shares have fallen 41% since the beginning of the year.