October 4, 2023

Baseball gloves awaiting action over the NBC Sports Philadelphia logo prior to the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies on April 11, 2018 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia PA.

Gavin Baker | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Give credit to legendary sports owner Ed Snider – he was one of the first to see business opportunities in regional sports networks.

Snider combined a regional sports network and movie channel in 1976 when he launched PRISM. If you’ve been a long-time Philadelphian, you remember the network well. PRISM was an additional cable fee. The station broadcast the National Hockey League’s Flyers franchise and the National Basketball Association’s 76ers.

The Major League Baseball Phillies games were also shown on the network that eventually became NBC Sports Philadelphia, one of the few RSNs operated by NBCUniversal parent company Comcast.

“For me, Ed Snider is definitely one of the top 10 pure sports visionaries of all time,” said former sports manager Andy Dolich. “Has he seen 100 percent of everything? Probably not. But he has seen the buildings. He has seen the teams. He has seen the fan bases, especially in Philadelphia, and he saw the crazy DNA fans have for the teams. And he could organize himself. ” it in a strategic way. “

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast is considering the sale of its shares and an exit from the RSN business, which was completed with the help of Snider, the former chairman of Comcast-Spectator. The speculation shouldn’t come as a big surprise as cable cutting continues and RSNs rely on cable subscribers. AT&T has also tried to sell its stock of RSNs.

Dolich said RSNs were once “the best sports microscopes – that is, you can find out everything, tune in during the day and get information about the local franchise. Now it’s flipped and becomes a telescope where fans want to see the big picture.”

“You don’t need a small picture,” he added. “It’s the one who won, lost, and saw the highlights of Steph Curry with 49 points. That’s all they’re interested in. All other things can be obtained in many different forms on their cell phone, laptop, iPad, etc.”

If NBCUniversal decides to auction some of its RSNs, some names and companies will circulate as fascinating buyers in the sports business world. This includes sports owners who could expand what Snider helped build.

Ownership of the railroad tracks

As early as 1976, Snider was betting that local fan communities would pay to watch teams. He died in 2016, but not before he and Comcast won that bet. Fans no longer have to rely solely on RSNs to reach sports leagues as there are plenty of streaming options.

Although the WSJ report found that past sports owners have had no interest in owning RSNs, that may change. The RSN traditionists suggest that the model is not dead, but in need of innovation.

Josh Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, is an interesting name associated with the operation of NBC Sports Philly. For those familiar with his business relationships, Harris likes exploring and taking risks. NBC Sports Philly might make perfect sense.

He owns the 76s he bought from Comcast-Spectator in 2011, and while Apollo is separate from his personal balance sheet, Apollo bought Verizon real estate, including Yahoo, for $ 5 billion earlier this month.

Whether Comcast will sell the property is the question. When a spokesman for NBC partner stations arrived Tuesday, he declined to comment on the WSJ report, but said the company was in a strong position with profitable RSNs.

In Washington, Ted Leonsis, the owner of Wizards and Capitals, has set up a digital RSN on the Monumental Sports Network and appears to be well positioned for the future with sports games and esports. Since he already has a 30% stake in the NBC Sports Washington property, he is joining as an applicant to fully own the network.

Dolich suggested that team owners should try buying RSN properties to prepare for what lies ahead, like virtual reality and augmented reality. He linked it with possession of the railroad tracks.

“If you look at the railroad billionaires 100 years ago, what did they control? They controlled the railroad tracks,” said Dolich. “What do the owners of a sports team have in these circumstances? They have the property, the athletes, and the games.

“Fans want control,” added Dolich. “They want to be in the game. And how many ways can you follow your team? It’s hundreds. Owners can choose the types of tracks people need to play the game.”

Dan Cohen, Octagon’s Media Executive added, “You get synergy between the team and content production, as well as fan engagement. When you are able, the data you have about people who come into the arena To merge with your audience, this is a really strong currency to trade. There is value in that. “

RedBird Capital might consider Boston RSN

The investment firm RedBird Capital has a minority stake in Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owner group of Red Sox and Liverpool FC. RedBird is also involved in the media sector as an investor in YES Network, the RSN that broadcasts Yankees games.

RedBird could investigate the purchase of NBC Sports Boston, consolidate and remodel the station to match the New England Sports Network (NESN), which already airs Red Sox and Bruins games.

“It’s a very strong market with a strong following and it’s profitable,” Cohen said of the Boston RSN.

RedBird declined to comment on the matter when it reached CNBC on Tuesday.

The headquarters of the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

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Is Sinclair an Option?

Sinclair relied heavily on RSNs when it bought 21 networks from Disney for $ 10.6 billion in 2019. This made Sinclair the largest RSN provider. Media professionals still aren’t sure, and Sinclair was forced to write off over $ 4 billion in debt related to the acquisition.

In March, Sinclair officially renamed the networks to Bally Sports under a contract with Bally’s Corporation. This could alienate marketing dollars from competing sports betting companies that are still spending a lot of money on growing brands.

The company is well positioned to take advantage of sports betting, however, and sources who wish to remain anonymous due to ongoing discussions say it is on the verge of renewing the NBA and NHL local streaming rights, which the streaming model is for Direct customers over the Internet will benefit from the Bally Sports App.

Sinclair has a market cap of $ 2.5 billion and cannot afford to buy the entire fleet of NBC RSNs. Antitrust concerns that forced Disney to unload the properties would also surface. However, participation in another RSN market would not hurt.

“It might make sense,” said Lee Berke of LHB Sports, a sports media consultancy. “There may be certain markets that border on existing markets and increase their national footprint.”

In this photo illustration, an Amazon Prime Video logo is displayed on a smartphone.

Mateusz Slodkowski | SOPA pictures | LightRocket via Getty Images

Keep an eye on Amazon

In the San Francisco Bay Area, another profitable NBC RSN has rights to the Golden State Warriors, Giants, Oakland A’s, and 49ers shoulder programs. Cohen mentioned tech giant Amazon as a perfect candidate in case NBC were to sell the property.

“If I’m Amazon and get a taste of the RSN fruit with YES Network, my next step would be to cause a sensation in Silicon Valley,” said Cohen. “You’d have Steph Curry for a few more years and the Giants who have a good following. It’s a good market.”

It’s down, but the RSN business isn’t dead yet, and if NBC leaves, there should be buyers willing to invest and experiment, especially with the top sports markets available.

“As far as you can see in the future, RSNs will continue to be part of the game,” said former Turner Sports President Dr. Harvey Schiller. “It’s all about the content that they make available to the viewer. The Regionals have to come up with other things to offer as part of it, and it will likely be gambling and gaming,” he added. “If you reconcile that with your product, that’s the future.”

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.