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MLB Commissioner Manfred Could Reject Renegotiated Diamondbacks, Diamond Sports Group Contract

Major League Baseball could assume the local broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks from Bally Sports Arizona should the deal not be completed.

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Rob Manfred
Rob Manfred - Courtesy: Major League Baseball | Wrigley Field - Courtesy: Jamie Squire, Getty Images

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred could be taking a stand against Diamond Sports Group and its business tactics.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary, embroiled in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, made its scheduled media rights payments to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians. Even so, the company is continuing to yearn for coveted direct-to-consumer broadcast rights. In an ongoing renegotiation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the company would receive a 20% discount and streaming rights in a five-year pact. Diamond Sports Group is viewing the deal to be more attractive to its own interests.

Over the ensuing four years, the price floor would diminish and a larger discount would be realized by Diamond Sports Group – all of which was first reported by Josh Kosman of the New York Post. Yet Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. has the ability to veto media rights deals – and he is reportedly considering wielding that power.

Manfred, who has been critical in implementing various rule changes across the sport this season, participated in a contentious meeting between him and Sinclair Broadcast Group executive chairman David Smith before the company declared bankruptcy. In the meeting, Smith told Manfred that if Diamond not receive direct-to-consumer broadcast rights, it would begin to urge clubs to lower their media rights fees.

When Manfred ardently jilted the proposal, Smith threatened bankruptcy so he could selectively reject contracts, evinced by the San Diego Padres recent separation from Bally Sports San Diego. The company, which oversees Diamond Sports Group and the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks, has been trying to fortify its Bally Sports Plus app. Diamond Sports Group executive officer David Preshlack testified in the hearing that the app has only reached 55% of its internal goal.

Moreover, the company may need to liquidate (Chapter 7 bankruptcy) sometime in the next year if Manfred does not assist in the restructuring, especially with outstanding senior debt. This senior debt, which involves larger shares of capital and shorter maturity periods, are typically secured with liens against collateral assets. Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stipulate criteria that would necessitate the immediate remuneration of these notes should the company not garner solvency.

Major League Baseball could assume the local broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks from Bally Sports Arizona should the deal not be completed. At the moment, Major League Baseball is paying 80% of the revenue afflicted teams would have received from their media rights deals to ensure competitive balance, funding that partially comes from the owners. Some team owners are not going to support the arrangement past this season, and it could lead Manfred to reconsider declining the proposal.

Renegotiating ongoing broadcast deals seldom occurs once terms have been agreed upon, but the reorganization (Chapter 11 bankruptcy) could necessitate it. Last season, Diamondbacks games averaged 20,000 viewers and the team was paid $68 million, the 13th-highest figure among the 30 major league teams. The team, owned by Ken Kendrick, generated a $30 million operating profit (EBITDA) in 2022 after experiencing a loss in 2021.

While the Diamondbacks as an organization seem to be preferential towards Diamond Sports Group in entertaining a lower deal and ceding streaming rights, the decision will ultimately come down to Manfred. In anticipation of the company operating in this way, Manfred established an incipient local media department within Major League Baseball, headed by Billy Chambers. Moreover, he has been frequently saying that the league is ready to step in if needed.

The Diamondbacks are the only Major League Baseball team the company owes money to that has not been paid. In a recent hearing, a U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled that Diamond Sports Group must pay the full value of its television contracts to the four teams afflicted – the Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. At his press conference from All-Star Week in Seattle, Manfred said he believes the league has been paid 94% of rights fees teams were owed by Diamond.

Both sides will enter a bankruptcy court hearing on July 17 where a new proposal is expected to be presented. The hearing was supposed to take place in late June; however, it was postponed amid progress from both sides. As a result, Bally Sports Arizona has continued to broadcast Diamondbacks games despite not receiving its scheduled payment.

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NBA Finals Game 5 Averages 12.2 Million Viewers on ABC

‘Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals averaged 12.2 million viewers on ABC while also attaining the largest share of audience among People 18-34.”

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Graphic for the NBA Finals
Courtesy: National Basketball Association

The Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA Championship with a win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. Boston now has the most championships in the history of the NBA. Game 5 was especially a hit on ABC television as the game broadcast averaged 12.22 million viewers. That represented the most-watched game of the NBA Finals. Viewership of the matchup peaked at 13.28 million viewers on the night and also set a record for the largest share of audience within the People 18-34 demographic ever.

Total viewership of the NBA Finals on ABC averaged 11.315 million viewers across the five-game series, according to Anthony Crupi of Sportico in a post on X. The NBA Finals matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat also went five games last year and averaged 13.08 million viewers. The NBA Countdown program, which featured host Malika Andrews and analysts Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers, along with guest analysts Josh Hart (games 1-2), Paul George (games 3-4) and Julius Randle (Game 5) averaged 4.02 million viewers through the series.

The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) is entering its final season within its existing media rights agreement with the National Basketball Association. The league is reportedly formalizing new media rights contracts with Disney, NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video with a collective value of $76 billion over the term of the deal.

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Final Round of U.S. Open Averages 5.9 Million Viewers on NBC, Peacock

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(Illustration) | NBC Golf Logo – Courtesy: NBCUniversal

The final round between Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy during the 124th U.S. Open from Pinehurst Resort and Country Club highlighted Sunday at the golf tournament in which the network attained a total audience delivery of 5.9 million viewers on NBC and Peacock. The seven-hour window ranks as the most-watched East Coast final round of the event since 2013 and is up 9% over the last U.S. Open to be held on the East Coast from Brookline, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch reported that the presentation had a 2.8 rating and that Nielsen measurements of the consumption equated to an average of 5.55 million viewers. Ratings were down by 11% from the final round of the U.S. Open last year from the Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.

Viewership of the competition peaked at 11.4 million viewers from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. EST and 11.3 million viewers from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. EST. When excluding streaming-based viewership, the audiences peaked at 10.8 million and 10.7 million viewers, respectively, during those same aforementioned quarter hours. The total peak audience of 11.4 million viewers is the highest peak audience for any U.S. Open competition since 2015. DeChambeau ended up defeating McIlroy by one shot, highlighted by his emerging out of a bunker for par on the 18th hole of Pinehurst course No. 2.

Primary broadcast coverage of the U.S. Open garnered a total audience delivery of 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% from the 2022 iteration of the event. Moreover, it exceeds the previous six U.S. Open events and is now the most-watched East Coast U.S. Open since 2013. The broadcast was also the most-streamed golf event on record for NBC Sports, the second time this record was broken during the tournament following first-round coverage on Thursday. Overall consumption of the event was up 17% year-over-year across all feeds.

Coverage of the U.S. Open as a whole on NBC averaged 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% compared to the previous year. Additionally, 2.89 million viewers within the aggregate figure watched the tournament on NBC, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

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Venu Sports Announces Founding Leadership Team

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Venu Sports Leadership Team
Courtesy: Venu Sports

Venu Sports, the new joint streaming venture from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, has announced the members of its founding leadership team that will report to Pete Distad, the chief executive officer of the entity. The team will be based in New York and Los Angeles and features executives with vast experiences in entertainment, media, technology, sports and sports betting companies.

Brian Borkowski has been named the chief marketing officer for Venu Sports and will be responsible for marketing, branding and growth strategies to help the brand launch and grow. Borkowski previously worked at FanDuel where he was the senior vice president of marketing for the company as it continued its expansion. Additionally, he has held various leadership roles with Hulu, including vice president of media and acquisition, along with head of subscriber acquisition. Over the years, he worked as the chief marketing officer of analytics firm Verikai and also had marketing leadership roles with Neilson Financial Services and Farmers Insurance.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis will serve as the senior vice president and head of communications for Venu Sports. Casano-Antonellis previously led communications at SiriusXM and also worked as the vice president of communications for Disney+ and Hulu at The Walt Disney Company. Among her responsibilities were overseeing communications initiatives for streaming propositions, including launching and rolling out Disney’s flagship streaming service.

Tim Connolly is the chief business officer of the company, possessing responsibilities pertaining to strategic initiatives for the sports streaming platform. Some of these areas of focus include content rights and licensing, distribution and strategic partnership and subscriber growth and retention strategies. Connolly previously helped lead subscriber growth for Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass at Apple, along with serving in senior leadership roles at Hulu and The Walt Disney Company.

Amit Dudakia will be responsible for product management and design, along with programming and editorial for Venu Sports in his new role of senior vice president and head of product. Dudakia most recently worked as the senior vice president of product management for Fox Technology and Digital where he led product and design for the FOX Sports division. Dudakia started working with the Fox Corporation at FX Network where he helped launch a variety of entities under its umbrella.

Skarpi Hedinsson has been named the chief technology officer of Venu Sports and will be responsible for technology strategy and execution for the streaming service. Hedinsson was previously the chief technology officer of the Los Angeles Rams and played an integral role leading the team envisioning, designing and implementing technology within SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. Hedinsson is the former chief technology officer of Disney/ABC Television Group, working in the role amid the launch of the WATCH ABC and WATCH Disney services.

David Hillman will oversee legal matters for Venu Sports in his new role of chief legal officer. Before joining Venu Sports, Hillman worked on the corporate legal executive management team at Paramount Global, recently serving as executive vice president and general counsel for CBS Sports, CBS News and Stations and Broadcast Operations. Within his position, he observed negotiations for strategic content agreements across several genres. Hillman previously held similar positions at Simon & Schuster and Westwood One.

Gautam Ranji will serve as the chief financial officer for Venu Sports, having purview over financial operations for the joint streaming venture. Ranji is the former chief financial officer and treasurer for Sphere Entertainment, involved in fiscal functions and within the management team that launched the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nev. Before this endeavor, he was responsible for strategic planning and business development at CBS and was a co-leader for the integration following the merger between Viacom and CBS, currently known as Paramount Global.

Judy Schwab is the senior vice president and head of people at Venu Sports, overseeing workforce planning, organizational effectiveness and talent acquisition along with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Schwab previously worked as a leader in human resources within the Apple Services division, and she was also a member of The Walt Disney Company leading human resources for its direct-to-consumer businesses. She was a key member of the leadership team that helped launch Disney+ and integrated Hulu as well.

In addition to the leadership team at Venu Sports, more than 150 engineers and executives are working to build the product that will look to serve sports fans without a traditional cable subscription. The service will combine several linear television networks owned by The Walt Disney Company, Fox Corporation and Warner Bros. Discovery that broadcast sports programming. Pricing and a launch date for the service have not yet been announced.

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