When the Rockies open their regular season March 30 at San Diego, fans will be able to watch games on TV via AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, a major league source confirmed Monday.
But how long that arrangement will continue remains to be seen.
Last month, Warner Brothers Discovery, Inc. (WBD) announced it would cut off its rights payments to the Rockies, Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates, whose games it airs through AT&T SportsNet.
Major League Baseball eventually plans to step in and take over those broadcasts in the future, but not by opening day, according to the New York Post, which reported that games are expected to still be aired through AT&T SportsNet “for the time being.”
Also, the plan is for MLB to keep the current local announcers and analysts when the league takes over the broadcasts, a source confirmed to The Post.
AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain has not responded to multiple requests for comments and clarity. Local announcers said they have not been told anything about the situation.
Last month, WBD, which operates AT&T SportsNet channels, told teams that they have until March 31 to reach an agreement to take their broadcasting rights back. If the Regional sports networks (RSNs) are unable to get a deal with the teams, the channels eventually plan to move forward with bankruptcy.
Last month, in a statement provided to The Post, WBD said: “AT&T SportsNet is not immune to the well-known challenges that the entire RSN industry is facing. We will continue to engage in private conversations with our partners as we seek to identify reasonable and constructive solutions.”
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has said the league is prepared to take over broadcasts should networks fold or continue to experience severe economic issues.
Last month, Manfred spoke about the financial troubles of Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary operating the networks under the name Bally Sports that televise games for nearly half of the league’s 30 teams. They are the Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.
“I think you should assume that if Diamond doesn’t broadcast, we’ll be in a position to step in,” Manfred told The Associated Press. “Our goal would be to make games available not only within the traditional cable bundle but on the digital side, as well.”
That same goal would eventually apply to games carried by AT&T SportsNet.
Early this month, MLB added three executives to its new local media department as it prepares for the likely takeover of local broadcasts.
Doug Johnson was hired as senior vice president and executive producer of local media, Greg Pennell as senior vice president of local media and Kendall Burgess as vice president of local media technical operations.
“These new hires are an important step in our preparation to address the changing landscape of MLB game distribution in light of the increasing challenges and pressure facing regional sports networks,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said in a statement.
The landscape of major league games on TV is shifting dramatically and the combination of cord-cutting and some cable networks electing not to carry expensive RSNs threatens to hurt MLB’s TV presence. According to the New York Post, just 35% of those that live in MLB markets can watch local baseball games on cable TV through regional sports networks.
Cord cutting refers to the trend of consumers replacing their traditional cable or satellite TV subscription in favor of streaming services. As more people cut the cord, the number of subscribers to RSNs has declined, leading to a drop in revenue.
According to a recent article in Forbes, the traditional advertising model that RSNs in part rely on has become less effective. With the rise of digital advertising, many advertisers are shifting their budgets away from traditional TV advertising. This has led to a decline in advertising revenue for RSNs, Forbes said.
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