The Arizona Diamondbacks became the second Major League Baseball team to fall out of the Diamond Sports Group umbrella on Tuesday, when a bankruptcy judge approved the company’s request to shed its contract with the team.
MLB will now take over the team’s television broadcasts, seven weeks after it took over broadcasts for the San Diego Padres. The D-backs and Diamond spent the past two weeks trying to hammer out a deal but ultimately were not able to reach one that would have been approved by the commissioner’s office.
Diamond, the Sinclair subsidiary that operates under the name Bally Sports, was midway through the eighth year of a reported 20-year, $1.5 billion deal signed in 2015. A spokesperson for Diamond wrote in a statement that the contract “had financial terms that were not aligned with Diamond’s long-term plans.”
MLB, at least, already has a model for how to pick up the broadcasting rights of a team. What follows is an explanation of how that process will unfold — and what’s next.
It’s going to be free to watch the D-backs? How is that going to work?
Similar to the Padres’ situation, D-backs games for the rest of this week — three in Atlanta and three in Cincinnati — will be free on MLB.com and the MLB app. Beginning Monday, a subscription cost will kick in for D-backs streams in the local market.
How much will that cost?
In-market fans can pay $19.99 per month or $54.99 for the rest of the season to watch Arizona’s games on MLB.TV. But most local fans with cable subscriptions won’t have to.
So how will that work?
MLB cut deals with several cable companies — DirecTV, Xfinity, Cox and Spectrum — to air D-backs games through their services. Those will be available on different channels, all of which are listed on dbacks.com/watch. Fans’ guides will list the channel simply as “Arizona Diamondbacks.”
MLB essentially eliminated territorial rights through those deals, which means that, for local fans who purchase the D-backs MLB.TV package, streaming Arizona games will no longer be subject to blackouts. Yup, that’s right — no blackouts.
Who will work the team’s broadcast booth? What changes can we expect in the broadcast, if any?
Not a whole lot looked different when MLB took over Padres games at the end of May. The red Bally Sports logo was replaced with the MLB silhouette on mic flags. But the same broadcasters took the airwaves, and everything else seemed, well, familiar. That is expected to be the case with the D-backs, with play-by-play man Steve Berthiaume and analyst Bob Brenly continuing to broadcast games. MLB started a local media department in March to prepare for such scenarios and believes it can deliver more camera angles and a better picture quality than what Bally Sports had been producing.
What does this mean for the D-backs, revenue/payroll-wise?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred promised the owners of the 14 Bally Sports teams that the league would cover them up to 80% of broadcasting revenue when Diamond went into bankruptcy. The league hasn’t had to pay up nearly that much, however; Manfred said prior to the All-Star Game in Seattle that the league has collected 94% of the money it had been owed up to that point from Diamond.
That, of course, was before the company decided not to continue on with its contract with the D-backs. The last payment was the second of two installments for 2023, meant to cover the rest of the season. At the very least, though, the D-backs will make 80% of what they were owed in 2023 (the average annual value of the deal with Diamond is somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million). Next year, though, is the question. Sources have said the league does not intend to backstop payments in 2024.
Diamond wrote in a statement on Tuesday that it “anticipates making all rights payments for the remainder of the MLB teams in our portfolio through the end of this season.” That means the following 12 teams will remain under the Bally Sports umbrella in 2023: the Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Cleveland Guardians, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers.
Diamond is seemingly trying to keep as many options open as possible in anticipation of making other big decisions with the NBA and NHL seasons starting soon. More MLB teams are expected to be shed in 2024, with Diamond and potentially other broadcasting companies like Warner Bros. Discovery, which could shed the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Colorado Rockies at the end of this season. The short-term question is how many. The long-term question is what kind of a revenue dip will owners experience by falling out of their Regional Sports Network contracts before MLB can deliver the returns it has promised them.