As the Twins prepare to face the Royals in Thursday's regular-season opener, a game that will be televised on Bally Sports North, a sobering television reality hangs over the season.
The recent bankruptcy filing by Diamond Sports, which owns the Bally Sports regional channels, has the potential to create upheaval in how games are distributed. It remains to be seen just how soon a new model arrives, but chaos could come to some markets more quickly than others.
It was timely, then, that a recent report added some hard numbers to the equation.
A Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal report, citing research from S&P Global Market Intelligence, indicates Bally Sports North lost well over half of its subscriber base in the last decade.
Per the report, there were 2.9 million subscribers to the regional sports network in 2013 (branded Fox Sports North at the time) compared with just 1.2 million subscribers to Bally Sports North now. That includes a staggering 1.4 million subscribers lost in just the last five years alone. Other markets saw large decreases in subscribers as well.
That paints a pretty stark picture of how the landscape of sports on TV has changed in a very short amount of time — particularly in the time since Diamond Sports, a subsidiary of Sinclair, bought 21 regional sports networks for $10.6 billion in 2019.
But even as trends such as cord-cutting — people dropping expensive cable and satellite packages — became part of the lexicon in recent years, it was hard to quantify the impact of that trend and the disappearance of regional sports channels from cheaper streaming packages like Hulu, YouTube TV and Sling.
Assuming the numbers in this report are accurate, it's no wonder the regional sports economic model is falling apart.
For teams like the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves — all of whom have the vast majority of their games shown on BSN — it brings future economic uncertainty. In the present, it has meant a dramatic decrease in the number of local fans who have access to their games.
While TV ratings are still more closely correlated with wins and losses than channel access — Twins President Dave St. Peter, for instance, said in a Star Tribune interview two years ago that the team's TV ratings went up 65% during their 101-win season in 2019 — being in front of fewer and fewer viewers is never a good thing.
If you count yourself among the 1.2 million subscribers that still gets Bally Sports North, enjoy Thursday's Twins opener. Just know that 10 years ago, more than twice as many of you existed.