The 2023 season is 13 days away, but there are more questions than answers when it comes how Rockies fans will be able to watch their team this season.
If you go to Coors Field, you’re all set. If the Rockies are out of town or if for some silly reason your life doesn’t allow you to attend every game in person, then you might be in trouble. The future of AT&T SportsNet and the Rockies appearing on TVs and streaming devices in the Rocky Mountain region is in jeopardy, despite news that the New York Post reported earlier this week that games will still air on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain “for the time being” — a very helpful and specific amount of time.
The unwillingness of Major League Baseball to adapt to a changing media environment and merger madness by corporations has led to a local TV crisis for MLB fans. If a solution isn’t found, the majority of Colorado sports fans could soon find themselves unable to watch three of their four major pro sports teams with the Comcast-Altitude feud dragging on seemingly in perpetuity.
Before we go further, it’s important to understand how we got here.
AT&T officially bought Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion, creating WarnerMedia. In February of 2022, AT&T decided it wanted out of the media business to focus on wireless endeavors. So “spin-off” WarnerMedia merged with Discovery in a $43 billion deal that gave Warner Bros. Discovery the rights to AT&T SportsNet regional stations across the United States.
Then came Feb. 23, 2023 when Warner Bros. Discovery decided to exit the regional sports game, telling teams with AT&T SportsNet channels in Denver, Houston, and Pittsburgh, as well as Root Sports in Seattle where it has a minority stake, that they had until March 31 to take their broadcasting rights back. If no deal can be reached, the channels would file for Chapter 7 liquidation. This impacts 10 pro teams: MLB’s Rockies, Pirates, Astros, and Mariners; the NBA’s Blazers, Jazz, and Rockets; and the NHL’s Kracken, Penguins, and Golden Knights.
Sure, regional sports might not be cash cows, but they aren’t worthless either. Cable TV has been hemorrhaging viewers for years across the board, not just in sports with viewership in networks like TNT, TBS, USA, HGTV, The History Channel, Bravo, Lifetime, and SyFy all down at least 10% from 2021 to 2022, just to name a few.
This is not a new problem that MLB or companies buying up other companies didn’t see coming. A 2021 CNBC article about the changing sports TV landscape explains that 25 million households have cut their cable or satellite TV services since 2012 and cites media executives who say 15-25 million more will do so by 2025. Cable TV revenue was $54 billion in 2010 and is projected to come in at just over $36.7 billion in 2023, a 32% decline, according to Statista.
Seeing the writing on the wall, corporations and MLB teams made the appropriate changes to safeguard baseball viewership moving forward. Just kidding.
In 2019, the Rockies and AT&T SportsNet announced a new deal that would continue the current deal of broadcasting rights starting in 2021 for an unspecified, multiyear contract. Dick Monfort had believed it would inject a hefty sum into the team’s budget to allow for more spending, but he then said, “It’s not as lucrative as I wanted it to be.”
According to Baseball Prospectus’ Craig Goldstein, in 2022, every MLB team’s TV contract was worth at least $40 million and each team gets $60.1 million from national TV contract deals with channels like ESPN and TBS. The previous Rockies-AT&T SportsNet deal was estimated to pay out $20 million to the Rockies annually. It doubled in 2021, despite cord-cutting and losses in cable TV viewership. Maybe hindsight is 20-20, but it was definitely not a sustainable deal.
However, local sports still generate large audiences. In an article on Feb. 28, MLB.com’s David Adler wrote all about how baseball games are constantly the most-watched local programming during the season. Alder said, “Twenty-two of the 29 U.S.-based MLB teams were the top-rated network in their market during primetime regular-season games, when comparing the RSN to all other cable networks.” While the Rockies are not one of those 22 teams, the Astros, Mariners, and Pirates all are.
Even if some audience numbers have shrunk in the last few years, cable and satellite providers know RSNs have decent audiences. So they often make the regional sports networks parts of bundles that cost more money to cover shortfalls in revenue across their platforms. This fuels more people’s thoughts to cut cable or satellite services and they do, hurting all parties involved, including RSNs.
Another RSN, Diamond Sports filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday. It will now work to restructure its $8 billion debt. In 2022, Warner Bros. Discover generated over $12 billion in revenue with a $1 billion profit, but has billion-dollar debts which could be reduced by selling AT&T SportsNet. The problem? Not many seem eager to buy the network.
In light of Diamond Sports downfall, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that MLB’s goal is to “step in” if Diamond fails and the hope is that the sentiments would carry over to AT&T SportsNet. He told the Associated Press, “Our goal would be to make games available not only within the traditional cable bundle but on the digital side, as well.”
All indications show that MLB hopes to keep current local announcers and analysts when the league takes over the broadcasts, according to the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders.
Meanwhile, “for the time being,” the voices of the Colorado Rockies – from Drew Goodman, Jeff Huson, and Jenny Cavnar to former Rockies Cory Sullivan and Ryan Spilborghs, and everyone else who works at all the RSNs have their livelihoods hanging in the balance.
It’s time to change how MLB thinks about TV. It’s time for Rockies to realize they can’t bank on $40 million in local TV deals when they can’t put a winning product on the field that encourages people to tune in.
MLB needs to prioritize its fans by giving them easy and affordable ways to watch their teams on their phones, tablets, computers, or TVs. It needs to make it easy for bars and restaurants to show games. No blackouts anywhere.
If the Rockies need to make up the funds by patching their uniforms like NASCAR drivers with sponsorships from MLB.com, Roku, DirecTV, Comcast, CenturyLink, Amazon Fire, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Apple, and anyone else who can be incentivized to carry their games, then so be it.
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Kyle Freeland relishes opportunity to represent USA in World Baseball Classic and reunites with Nolan Arenado | DNVR
Patrick Lyons highlights the unique chance Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland has in playing with Team U.S.A. in the World Baseball Classic and the reasons why he was picked for the roster. This one is full of great quotes and is worth a read to prepare for the WBC semifinal showdown between the U.S. and Venezuela on Saturday when Freeland might make his second appearance in the WBC after giving up one run on three hits with three strikeouts in three innings vs. Great Britain in pool play.
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