A major change may finally be coming to the streaming sports landscape, New York Yankees president Randy Levine hinted Thursday after the $3.5 billion sale of the YES Network formally closed.
YES, which will now be owned by the Yankees, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Amazon and three private equity partners. The new configuration positions YES well as sports viewing continues to evolve, Levine said during a conference call with reporters.
The linear broadcast rights to baseball and other sports carried by regional sports networks remain a valuable draw for advertisers despite dramatic shifts in viewing in recent years. In the digital realm, though, change may be afoot. Rumblings have grown louder that the sport could be due for a reshuffling of how it handles streaming rights. Traditionally, the RSNs (including YES) have paid Major League Baseball a set fee for streaming rights, but the league is actively exploring a shift of those rights back to individual teams’ control. (MLB Advanced Media, renamed BAMtech, successfully anticipated the streaming revolution, powering apps like HBO Now before being bought by Disney and mobilized for Disney+.)
Asked whether the YES deal signals Major League Baseball easing its long-firm grip on streaming rights, Levine didn’t answer directly but offered a small tease. “I think you should just stay tuned because I think the [MLB] commissioner will be speaking about that in the near future,” he said. When another reporter pressed for more details, Levine said, “I never speak for the commissioner. … The commissioner may have something to say on that, and I think you should address [the question] to him.”
During the 15-minute call, Levine praised the “great expertise” of Amazon. Without offering specifics, he said, “We’ll be developing programs. We’ve got things in the works as we speak.”
One ticklish aspect of the deal’s timing is that the new owners of YES have inherited a carriage dispute with Dish Network dating to July that also affects the 21 formerly Fox-owned RSNs. The sale of the non-YES networks, set in motion by the $71.3 billion Disney-Fox deal, was formally announced last week, with the new ownership group including Sinclair and Byron Allen. The carriage impasse has meant the Yankees’ march to the playoffs has not been seen on Dish’s satellite systems or Sling TV skinny-bundle service.
Levine acknowledged the “changing environment” for RSNs but said YES would be able to continue weathering it well. “Sinclair is a very important partner to us,” Levine added. “They have great expertise. They’ll be working with YES management to try to get all of these distribution deals done. I never talk about negotiations in public and I would leave it at that.”
Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley added, “We’ll all be partners together in figuring that out.”
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