Kirill Kaprizov's debut for the Wild couldn't have been much better. Shortly before midnight, after already delivering a pair of assists in a game with the Kings that went to overtime tied 3-3, the Russian wing pounced on a turnover and scored on a breakaway to give Minnesota a season-opening victory.
It was the kind of game Wild fans have dreamt about for years. But it also renewed frustrations Minnesota sports fans have with their TV provider and Fox Sports North. Because those who have any number of streaming services weren't able to see it.
I've written extensively about the ongoing standoff between Sinclair-owned regional sports networks — a patchwork of channels that includes FSN — and various providers. In 2019, Sling TV and Dish Network dropped RSNs in a dispute over carriage fees. In September, YouTube TV did the same, and Hulu followed suit in October.
None of those providers has added the channels back yet, leaving subscribers to either drop them in favor of illegal streams or more expensive options ... or to ditch services altogether ... or to keep, at least for now, their current streaming service in hopes that the dispute will end.
The only streaming service that offers a month-to-month contract and still carries FSN is AT&T. I've heard some positive feedback from readers who have added that service. I've also heard from plenty of others who are tired of jumping from stream to stream and have simply had enough.
The reason for the update here: Wild fans — particularly those with YouTube TV or Hulu — are experiencing fresh frustration after missing out on Thursday night's opener. They are voicing many of the same complaints as Wolves fans a few weeks ago.
And: A Sinclair executive on Thursday at least provided some update on where things are going, even if it's probably not what you want to hear.
Speaking at a conference, Sinclair's executive vice president and CFO Lucy A. Rutishauser was quoted by Streamable.
(I should mention here that I reached out to a Sinclair PR representative more than a week ago asking for an interview with an executive from the company and followed up again Thursday afternoon. Neither request has even been acknowledged let alone granted).
But Rutishauser did attempt an explanation (albeit a vague one) when asked why services like Hulu and YouTube can't just offer regional sports channels like FSN on a more expensive tier of programming for those who want those channels, saying "these are all highly highly negotiated contracts" and suggesting a tiered system might create problems.
She said the timing of Hulu and YouTube TV dropping those channels was "kind of unfortunate" because the COVID-altered sports calendar — which left a larger gap between MLB and the NBA/NHL seasons — meant "those contracts were coming up and we didn't have any sports."
OK, sure. But now that those seasons have started up again, when can fans expect some sort of resolution? The Streamable writes that "right now, it does not appear like either side is ready to budge."
After this piece was initial posted, Sinclair provided this statement that attempts to position its side in the negotiations:
Sinclair remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with both Hulu and YouTube TV to carry the FOX RSNs. At no time have we demanded exorbitant fees for these channels. Instead, we have consistently offered both pay TV providers extremely fair deals in line with what hundreds of other tv services have agreed to and continue to agree to. However, despite high profile ad campaigns and website claims touting their live sports content, we have yet to see that same commitment from either provider to put consumers first. Unfortunately, at this point we have no choice but to conclude that neither Disney (which owns Hulu) nor Google (which owns YouTube) is willing to engage in good faith discussions or return the RSNs to their platforms.
A loss in revenue from subscribers to streaming services, some no doubt fueled by dropping RSNs, could lead to as much as a 10% drop in revenue for Sinclair, the company said in a December earnings report.
But as Sinclair prepares to roll out a new sports app this spring — which will replace Fox Sports Go — and bets big on a partnership with Bally's that will include in-game wagering options in some markets at some point, will it really be motivated to settle carriage disputes with streaming services that represent a small (though vocal and growing) part of their distribution base?
That's the question in the short term that should worry Wolves and Wild fans — and soon enough, Twins fans — who have those streaming services.
"It remains (to be) seen on the virtual side what takes place there and now that NBA is back on and (the) NHL started just (Wednesday)," Rutishauser said. "We have to see the demand it drives to those systems to get RSNs back on — or to see if subscribers migrate to a system where they can watch their local teams."
Those answers probably won't be immediately apparent on a large scale, leaving Wild fans with streaming services to miss a lot more of Kaprizov's rookie season.