News arrived Tuesday that Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair-owned broadcaster that operates a number of regional sports networks (RSNs), including Bally Sports Wisconsin, had missed a payment to the San Diego Padres, and Padres broadcasts would abruptly get pulled from the Bally Sports platform.
Diamond confirmed in a statement to the Sports Business Journal that Tuesday’s Padres game would be the last, with the media rights immediately reverting back to the Padres and Major League Baseball. John Ourand cited a source saying that MLB will stream the team’s games for free through Sunday, then make the games available via other outlets.
It’s still developing, but it provides a blueprint of what might happen if Diamond can no longer pay other teams, like the Brewers.
Diamond’s complicated bankruptcy process has been one of the most watched developments in sports media. With Brewers and Bucks games also airing on Bally Sports Wisconsin, it’s fair to ask: Will Brewers games suddenly disappear from the channel, and where do they go next?
Is Bally Sports Wisconsin in danger of losing Brewers games?
The bankruptcy process indeed creates a cloud of uncertainty around the long term future of broadcasts on the network, but there are also reasons to believe the Brewers won’t be leaving the network anytime soon. Consider:
Bally Sports San Diego is not part of Diamond’s bankruptcy filing because the team has an ownership stake in the RSN. That makes it unusual among the 14 markets for which Diamond broadcasts baseball games, and it enabled San Diego to reclaim its broadcast rights so quickly.
Ourand has previously reported that in most cases, the team would have to reclaim its rights through court process, a process that’s naturally much slower than what we’ve seen in San Diego. In the meantime, a court has ordered Diamond to pay partial payments to the Rangers, Guardians, Diamondbacks, Reds and Twins, preserving the status quo for at least a little while longer in those markets even though they aren’t getting paid everything they’ king owed
The Brewers are one of five teams (Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays) for whom Bally has direct-to-consumer streaming rights. Diamond is trying to get those rights for the other teams in its orbit, but if MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is serious about prioritizing the discontinuation of blackouts, then it makes sense for teams to reclaim those rights whenever possible, not sign them away. Since the Brewers’ streaming rights are already owned by Diamond, it enables the Bally Sports Wisconsin app to work in Wisconsin (offering streamed live games as a standalone service — that’s something still unavailable to the majority of RSN audiences). It’s also easy to conclude that the Brewers, as a result, would be one of the properties Diamond will try to hold onto the longest.
Will Brewers games suddenly be available for free?
Let’s say Diamond suddenly can’t make any payments, the court process moves quickly (haha!) and the Brewers games are suddenly shuffled off Bally Sports Wisconsin.
In San Diego’s case, MLB stepped in quickly and appears poised to stream the games for free, but only through Sunday on its MLB.TV app. If you’re interested in watching Josh Hader here in Milwaukee, you also can watch Padres games for free through June 4.
MLB has been preparing for this eventuality for a couple of years and certainly in earnest since Diamond entered bankruptcy proceedings in March. The league already knows how it’s going to get its games to people, and while some games might get streamed for free in the short term, don’t expect that to last any length of time.
But there’s a quirk for Padres fans who don’t have a traditional TV outlet; Padres games are no longer subject to local blackouts and can be watched the rest of the year by anyone in San Diego with the MLB.TV app (although you’d have to pay for the games after June 4).
Where will the games move to?
In the Padres example, the coverage will experience no gaps; Wednesday’s game is available on Charter, Spectrum, Cox, DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse. MLB said it will triple the number of homes that now get Padres games locally. That should demonstrate just how prepared MLB and its teams are for a change.
In other words, if you have a cable or satellite service that carries Brewers games now and the rights fees switch over to MLB, you’re almost certain to still get the game, just on a different channel.
Not only that, the broadcast is likely to look and sound a lot like a standard Bally Sports Wisconsin game, minus perhaps some sound effects and on-screen graphics. Many broadcasters are team employees and would still be on the call.
What’s a realistic timetable for a change?
It sure seems like at some point, Bally Sports Wisconsin won’t be able to afford broadcasts anymore. But two months into bankruptcy, and it’s status quo for every team except one, which represents a unique situation. Given where the Brewers stand, it appears unlikely that we’d see dramatic changes during the 2023 season. After that it’s anyone’s guess.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bally Sports abruptly loses Padres games. What about Brewers games?