YouTube TV on Thursday announced that it is dropping all 21 regional sports networks owned by Sinclair — including, most notably to most of you, Fox Sports North — on Saturday because of an impasse over contractual terms.
The streaming service, which boasts north of 2 million subscribes, said via Twitter: “Despite our best efforts, we’ve been unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair. As a result, we will no longer offer FOX Regional Sports Networks, including YES Network, beginning February 29th. We do not take this decision lightly. This is a reflection of the rising cost of sports content. You may have noticed several other TV services have also decided to remove FOX Regional Sports Networks from their lineups.”
Subscribers vented on Twitter almost immediately, with those affected across markets basically saying they will cancel their subscriptions.
While it’s hard to know exactly how many YouTube TV subscribers there are in Minnesota, it stands to reason the number is at least in the tens of thousands. One local response read: “Figure it out. I will not keep this trash service if I can’t watch the Wild on FSN.”
Indeed, if that sounds familiar it’s because a similar story played out last year when both Sling TV (another streaming service) and Dish Network (a larger satellite provider) both dropped the RSNs from their menu of offerings — angering plenty of Minnesota sports fans.
Fox issued a statement last summer expressing optimism: We know fans are looking forward to the broadcasts of their hometown teams during the stretch run of the baseball season, and we hope DISH and Sling act to return this programming to their customers.
But those channels have not returned to Sling or Dish. While there are still plenty of places to get Fox Sports North, including traditional cable systems and the satellite giant DirecTV, options for “cord-cutters” are getting smaller.
FuboTV, a smaller streaming service with 250,000 subscribers as of about a year ago, similarly dropped the Sinclair-owned RSNs in January.
Services like YouTube TV and Sling — which you run through your TV with a device like a Roku, Chromecast or Fire Stick and which can also be streamed to devices like smart phones, tablets and laptops — gained traction by hitting a sweet spot with younger TV watchers. With a lower monthly price (YouTube TV is $49.99, while a similar Sling package is $45 per month) than cable or satellite and no more than a month-to-month commitment without a long-term contract or cancellation fees, they give viewers choices and let them be nimble while keeping costs down.
But part of the appeal locally — at least in my view and that of plenty of other people I know — was that they offered Fox Sports North, which has a huge presence in the local sports scene. FSN carries virtually every Twins, Wild and Wolves game (either on the regular or plus channel) in addition to the majority of Minnesota United and Lynx games, plus a good number of college hockey games.
Though far more people still subscribe to traditional cable or satellite than use streaming services — Dish, for instance, still had 10 million subscribers heading into 2019 while Hulu + Live TV is the largest streaming service at 3.2 million subscribers, with Sling and You Tube TV not far behind — the gap has been narrowing.
Hulu, by the way, is the subscription service I switched to last year after being a Sling subscriber before the FSN disappearance. Both streaming services were an escape from the $100-plus I was paying with other traditional services.
Hulu still has Fox Sports North, and in fact has been adding more Sinclair channels lately. If you’re inclined to switch to another streaming device and you’re a big local sports fan, I would recommend looking into Hulu. The price point is a little higher ($54.99 a month) than other streaming services, but there are no contracts and it’s still cheaper than most other options. Plus, you can watch The Handmaid’s Tale and let a Dystopian reality wash over you.
Perhaps Hulu will realize the value of regional sports networks — and the advantage it now has over other similarly sized streaming services — and keep the channels long-term. If not, cord-cutting sports fans will be in an even bigger bind.