Bally Sports North will continue to televise Minnesota Timberwolves games through the end of the 2023-24 season, under a tentative ruling issued Wednesday by a federal bankruptcy court judge in Houston, and the Minnesota Wild will likely receive the same assurance in the next week or so.
But at season's end, the NBA and NHL teams will find themselves in the same predicament as the Minnesota Twins are now: They'll be free agents looking for a new broadcasting partner.
"Let's be clear what's going on here: This is a liquidation of the business," David Seligman, attorney for Sinclair Inc., which purchased 19 regional sports networks including BSN in 2019. "This is going to be in operation for another year, and then it's going to be shutting down the business."
The sports networks, operated under an umbrella company called Diamond Sports Group, filed for bankruptcy in February, citing millions in losses due to consumers' rapid shift from cable and satellite TV to streaming services. The bankruptcy has disrupted the finances of many of the roughly three dozen MLB, NBA and NHL teams whose games are televised by those Bally's-branded networks.
The Twins' 10-year contract with BSN expired at the end of the 2023 season, but the team has yet to determine who will televise their games next year and beyond. More importantly, they don't know how much revenue they can expect to receive from local TV rights, though it figures to be substantially less than the $54 million BSN paid them — grudgingly, and only after a federal judge ordered them to — last season. President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said last week that the prospect of greatly reduced revenues will force the Twins to lower its payroll this offseason.
That's not just a Twins' problem, a lawyer for MLB made clear in court on Wednesday. The hearing was called so U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez could approve a deal DSG struck earlier this month with its NBA partners, including the Timberwolves, that reduced their rights fees in exchange for guaranteeing payment for this season and then terminating all long-term deals.
A similar agreement with the NHL is nearly complete, a DSG attorney said. But the 11 MLB teams still under contract with Diamond Sports have no such deal in place, and they fear another season of wondering when, or even whether, they will be paid.
"It is critically important to all the teams that we have certainty for the 2024 season. Statements have been made saying that the 2024 season is going to be telecast and the full agreements are going to be honored. And that sounds great," attorney Jim Bromley said. "But we need more than that. We need to have comfort that what's going to happen here is that we get all the way through the 2024 season, and it's not going to turn into a situation like we faced all through the 2023 season, that the debtors would decide on the eve of rights payments being due whether or not to make those payments."
The Twins have explored several possible solutions, in hopes of not only restoring some of their lost revenue but also widening their audience, perhaps by putting some games on over-the-air stations, and certainly by making streaming options more available.
MLB has taken over the production and distribution of Padres and Diamondbacks games, and commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear at a trial in May that the league would like to do the same for more teams — ideally, all of them, sometime in the future, in order to create "one-stop shopping" for baseball content. That could turn out to be the best alternative for the Twins, at least for now, though it's unclear how much revenue that would generate.
Any hopes for the Twins returning to BSN were likely damaged by Sinclair's declaration Wednesday that 2024 is the networks' final year.
"The Sinclair folks who originally acquired Diamond, they're kind of bummed. They're bummed that this business that they put a billion and a half [dollars] of equity value in is now going to be shut down," Seligman said. "There are going to be people losing their jobs. Diamond's business is going to go away."
DSG's attorney, however, disputed its parent company's notion that the networks are doomed.
"The path we're on [is] keeping the company alive for at least another year. … [Efforts] are under way to see if there are other alternatives. This is not a fait accompli," Andrew Parlen said. "This is a lifeline for this company and its employees. … We categorically reject Sinclair's crocodile tears. Day in and day out, these folks are working to keep this company alive."