Alden GonzalezESPN staff writer2 minutes to read
A US bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of Major League Baseball and four of its teams in Houston on Thursday, forcing Diamond Sports Group, which operates broadcasts as Bally Sports, to pay the contracts involved in full.
Navigating through bankruptcy proceedings, Diamond argued that he should pay the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers less than current deals required, arguing that the rapid rate of cord-cutting had greatly reduced the value of the assets.
But Judge Christopher Lopez, who presided over a case that lasted two full days and included testimony from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, ultimately stated: “I think contract rate is the correct answer here.”
The Twins, Guardians, D-backs, and Rangers already got 75% of what was owed to them as a means of keeping them until the hearing was over. Lopez, in choosing not to amend their contracts, determined that Diamond needed to pay the remaining 25%, though he did not set a deadline for payment.
Diamond, a Sinclair subsidiary, took on more than $8 billion in debt to buy broadcast rights for 42 teams across the MLB, NBA and NHL from Fox in 2019, then suffered from a proliferation of streaming services. Diamond owned the rights to 14 major league teams but lost to the San Diego Padres earlier this week when it failed to pay the rights fee due at the end of the grace period.
MLB has since taken over the Padres’ broadcasts, offering its games without interruption through its streaming service, MLB.TV, while striking deals with several cable companies to provide a linear option on various channels. The league has promised to do the same with any other team outside Diamond’s purview. Judge Diamond’s ruling could prompt him to dump the D linebacker, the Guardians, Twins, and Rangers in the near future, or perhaps some of the other nine major league teams owned by him.
Diamond has long stated that it needs to secure broadcast rights in order to support Bally Sports+ and run a more sustainable business, but it currently holds broadcast rights to only five major teams – the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins. MLB has shown no interest in providing broadcast rights to others.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Manfred stated that MLB promised Bally-owned teams that they would generate at least 80% of the revenue they were projecting through their broadcast deals in 2023; Whatever Diamond didn’t pay in the end will be subsidized by the league. Manfred also said that MLB tried to buy the regional sports networks when they were initially for sale but came up about $900 million less than Diamond’s winning bid, adding that he would try to buy them again if the situation arose.
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