In early fall, both YouTube TV and Hulu dropped the Sinclair-owned regional sports networks — including Fox Sports North — from the list of channels it offers.
It was the latest blow for cord-cutting sports fans who had subscribed to those services or previously had Sling TV and/or Fubo, which dropped the RSNs more than a year ago.
If you have any of those services, you haven't been able to watch the Wild or Timberwolves on FSN this season. And with Twins games about to start up — their first spring training game is set to be shown Wednesday on FSN, with the regular season opener just a month away — it's time for an update on this subject that continues to resonate with a lot of readers.
The bad news: The future looks bleak for watching FSN on any of those streaming services.
I dove into the subject in detail on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast with Jason Gurwin, co-founder of The Streamable — a site that covers all things cord-cutting and streaming. He has written extensively about the subject of regional sports networks like Fox Sports North and their removal from several different streaming services in recent months.
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You can listen to that entire conversation on the podcast, which gets into depth on a number of subjects not mentioned below, but here are a few of the key takeaways from Gurwin:
Where do we stand now? Is there any hope for, say, a Twins fan who wants to watch a regular-season game a month from now to expect it will be on Hulu or YouTube TV?
"I don't think in the current form of it just being included on the base plan they are ever coming back to Hulu and YouTube TV," Gurwin said. "I think if Sinclair was willing to be an add-on to those bundles or be in their sports add-on, I think there would be a possibility. But we haven't heard that is even a topic of negotiation."
That echoes the sentiment of Twins President Dave St. Peter, who said he is not optimistic about any agreements in the short-term between FSN and Hulu or YouTube TV. St. Peter said he has spent a lot of time on the subject this offseason and has had conversations with Sinclair about the importance of fans being able to access Twins games on TV even though the Twins don't have much leverage in how negotiations between Sinclair and carriers play out.
If these streaming services used to carry regional sports networks, why have so many of them dropped them?
"Over the last couple years, there have been price hikes (on streaming services). One of the key contributors to that was regional sports networks," Gurwin said. "On average, when you get a cable bill you see a $15-20 regional sports fee that kind of gets hidden. A difference on these streaming services is they never charged a separate extra fee. It ultimately became a price situation where Sinclair wanted more and more and more and more money every year to renew these, and given that these streaming bundles are half the price of cable they just couldn't fit it in and make it work economically."
I heard Sinclair might offer a direct-to-consumer app sometime soon. Where does that stand?
"They say now that's not coming ... until at least 2022," Gurwin said. "One thing that's very interesting about the economics of this is that ... there are so many people out there that are subsidizing sports fans in their cable package. The Twins last year had about 100,000 viewers, households, per game. There are a million and a half people in the DMA. That's a small percentage. Even if they went direct to consumer, this isn't something where you could charge $6.99 like Disney Plus. You would have to charge 100,000 people something like $40 a month. ... I think they are going to use sports betting to try to subsidize these packages. So if they need to charge the consumer $40 a month in order to break even on rights fees, I could imagine a world where they're like 'Hey, if you are gambling $100 a month through our service, we'll give you the RSNs for free.' But obviously online sports betting is not legal yet in Minnesota."
What is your advice for a Minnesota sports fan who lives in the Twin Cities market and is committed to ditching the cable/satellite contracts and expense but is still trying to watch their favorite local teams?
"Your only option right now in terms of streaming is AT&T TV," Gurwin said. "Fortunately they just rolled out these new no-contract plans. It's $84.99 a month. You'll get Fox Sports North and you'll get most of the top cable channels. You can cancel it when games aren't on. There's MLB TV, which a lot of fans use to watch out-of-market games. But locally you won't be able to watch games. ... The good news is MLB TV does not black out spring training games, so at least if you want to watch that you have that. And if you're a T-Mobile subscriber you actually get MLB TV for free on their unlimited plan. There are options. Unfortunately it's not as cheap or as easy as it was a year ago. But I would say compared to five years ago when your choice was paying $150 for a cable package you were locked into for two years, it's still substantially better than it once was."
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