When we look back at the year 2023 in sports, many year in review pieces that will be penned towards the close of the calendar year will examine who won and who lost, inspirational moments from the year and news that had us abuzz with conversation.
Among those news items that is already having many a sports fan talking is the impending bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group.
One is probably asking what is Diamond Sports Group? It is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting and is the entity that happens to own the number of Bally Sports regional sports networks across the country.
These Bally Sports channels used to be the Fox Sports regional channels, but Fox sold off its regional sports channels initially to Disney then to Sinclair as a result of the Disney-21st Century Fox pact.
There are five WNBA teams that have its games aired on one of the Bally Sports networks.
Those are the Minnesota Lynx (Bally Sports North), the Atlanta Dream (Bally Sports South and Bally Sports Southeast), the Indiana Fever (Bally Sports Indiana), the Dallas Wings (Bally Sports Southwest) and the Phoenix Mercury (Bally Sports Arizona).
Diamond Sports Group is in major debt to the point where it can no longer afford to dole out payments to other leagues it is in business with – such as the NBA, NHL and MLB. Some of those leagues are now proposing to bring their production for their games more in house – such as MLB.
If those leagues are thinking long and hard about perhaps removing its games off of the Bally Sports networks entirely, one can only imagine how long it will be before the W does the same.
One element of this story that is receiving a lot of attention is how the leagues (or teams) likely – in the short term – will take over production of game coverage. This is one element of the Bally Sports saga where the WNBA may actually be sitting a bit prettier than other leagues.
Why? Because many of the WNBA’s games are already produced in house at the NBA. We know this because the graphics that are used by the in-house production staff are essentially the same graphics that are used at the G-League. Yeah – that is most certainly NBA production.
Bally Sports (as well as Warner Bros.-Discovery’s AT&T SportsNet) are undergoing the financial troubles they are enduring because the business model of today’s sports economy is no longer conducive to the regional sports network being profitable outside the most major of markets.
There are exceptions. These include YES Network (that airs New York Liberty games), NESN (that airs Connecticut Sun games), Spectrum SportsNet (that airs Los Angeles Sparks games) and NBC Sports Washington (that airs Washington Mystics games and now is owned by Mystics boss Ted Leonsis). The jury is still out on Marquee Sports Network, that became the broadcast partner for the Chicago Sky starting last season.
YES notably does its own production even for Liberty road games – something no other WNBA team broadcast partner does to our knowledge.
A big part of why they are exceptions is those networks have a lot more ancillary programming around the teams that they air. That is mostly not the case with the Bally Sports channels.
Streaming is the new wave and fans no longer want to be constrained by regional blackouts to watch their favorite teams. Bally Sports was initially antagonistic to streaming and is now beginning to embrace it only as the clock gets closer to striking midnight.
The WNBA, of course, does air most of its season on its own subscription streaming service – League Pass (which used to be WNBA Season Pass back in the day). Interestingly enough, the Las Vegas Aces recently announced that 10 games will air this season on KVVU-TV Fox 5 in Sin City. The rest of the schedule will be aired in Silver State Sports & Entertainment Network, which is carried on a KVVU-TV subchannel. SSSEN also airs UNLV athletics.
One can only think that in coming seasons this may be the route the five W teams that air on one of the Bally channels are preparing to travel on. Bally is clearly on the way out and streaming is clearly on the way in.
This is an issue the W clearly cannot afford to mess up because games are already difficult enough to access even with League Pass. The WNBA needs to smartly know how to navigate life sans Bally because it does not need to find itself in another accessibility valley.