Bally Sports parent could be facing Chapter 11

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Diamond Sports Group, which owns and runs Bally Sports channels, the former regional sports networks owned by 21st Century Fox, is likely to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2023.

The venture, which is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group and associated with Entertainment Studios, has a $140 million interest installment coming due and the company announced Feb. 15, 2023, it would not make that payment and would explore other options, one of which is bankruptcy.

Sinclair bought 22 of Fox’s RSNs in 2019 after Disney purchased most assets of the former 21st Century Fox. Because of Disney’s ownership in ESPN, it had previously announced it would sell the RSNs.

In 2020, Sinclair inked a deal with Bally’s to brand the networks as Bally Sports. It also announced it would shutter three of the offerings.

Since then, the networks have been mired in challenges, including the lack of professional sports in the early days of the pandemic and cord-cutting reducing viewership pools. It has made some attempts to offer premium streaming subscriptions, though it’s not clear how successful those have been and they are only available in select markets.

Sinclair also has a deal with the Chicago Cubs for Marquee Sports Network, which is devoted entirely to that team. That channel’s ratings have been in decline for many of the same reasons as Bally’s, but also have had to contend with less-than-stellar seasons for the Cubs since MLB started again post-pandemic.

It’s not immediately clear how Marquee could be affected, though it is technically owned by Sinclair directly, as opposed to via the Diamond Sports subsidiary.

A Diamond bankruptcy could affect professional sports teams’ lucrative broadcasting rights agreements if the company attempts to renegotiate its fees as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy typically allows the company in question to attempt to get its creditors to accept less money or renegotiate pricing, but they are not necessarily obligated to accept the lower costs and likely could back out of the deal if Diamond can’t pay the agreed-upon rates.

MLB, meanwhile, says that it has options to switch coverage to other channels if Diamond can’t pay up.

Updated to reflect Feb. 15, 2023 announcement and new possible bankruptcy date.