MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed the league’s interest in acquiring the regional sports networks (RSN) that Disney is required to divest after it closes its purchase of 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets in early 2019.
“Yes, we’re interested in the regionals,” Manfred said during an appearance on Fox Business Network on Tuesday morning.
The 22 regional sports networks collectively hold local TV rights for 44 professional sports teams across the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball. The crown jewel is the YES Network, which airs New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets games, while also owning RSNs in other major markets including Detroit, Southern California, Dallas, Cleveland and Miami.
“You know, in 12 markets baseball on the Regional Sports Network is the number one programming throughout the summer. In 24 of 25 markets that we operate in, we’re the number one programming on cable,” Manfred continued. “So these Regional Sport Networks are really valuable, valuable assets and we think that the combination of that traditional mode of delivery and the digital rights that we control is an opportunity for the game.” Manfred had previously hinted that MLB could be a suitor for the RSNs during a private dinner in New York last month.
If the league were to acquire all or some of the RSNs, it would have to sort through potential conflicts of interest, given that many professional sports teams are stakeholders in the local channels that carry their games (for example, the Yankees own 20 percent of the YES Network). That would put the league in a position where it would not only be business partners with some of the teams it oversees, but it will own those teams’ distribution outlets.
When Disney gained approval from the Department of Justice in its $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox’s film and TV entertainment assets, it agreed that it would sell off Fox’s 22 regional sports networks. Disney will have at least 90 days from the date of closing of the transaction to complete this sale, with the possibility that the DOJ can grant extensions.
MLB is just one of several bidders for the RSNs, which includes Amazon, TEGNA and Sinclair Broadcasting. There was no reported price tag, but the deal is expected to swell upwards of $20 billion for the entire slate of channels.
Amazon’s interest has attracted the most attention. The tech giant has been trying to make inroads into the live sports space, as it seeks to pump its Prime Video service to compete with Netflix and Hulu. In the last few years, Amazon has grabbed rights in the U.K. for the Premier League and Tennis’ U.S. Open to go along with the streaming rights to the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.”
“Amazon has been around the process,” Manfred continued. “Exactly who is going to be in and who is going to be out remains to be seen.”