Sports fans who have ditched traditional cable or satellite TV providers in favor of streaming services have been in a frustrating spot lately — caught in the middle of a price war between streaming providers and Sinclair, which owns 21 regional sports networks that carry a bevy of local MLB, NBA, NHL and other high-demand programming.
A resolution with carriers like Hulu and YouTube TV seems less and less likely by the day; both streaming services dropped Sinclair-owned regional sports networks (then Fox Sports regionals, since rebranded to Bally Sports) in the fall of 2020 — well over six months ago now. Dish Network and other streaming services had previously dropped the expensive RSNs, leaving a lot of customers without the sports they want.
In lieu of that, "cord-cutters" who don't want to pay hefty bills for cable or DirecTV (a satellite provider that still carries the RSNs) have been wondering when and if Sinclair might offer a direct-to-consumer app — and how much it might cost for the user. Per a report in the New York Post, those answers are starting to take shape.
The Post reported that Sinclair is trying to raise $250 million to develop an app that would be available in the 21 markets where Bally Sports regional channels exist — including the Twin Cities area, which is served by Bally Sports North.
Sinclair is reportedly telling investors it would charge users $23 a month for the standalone app — a relatively hefty price for just one channel, but a fee that might be worth it for someone who really only wants to watch local sports programming, which in our market includes virtually every Twins, Wild and Wolves game in addition to Minnesota United, Lynx and other offerings.
The aim, per the report, is to have the app ready in time for the start of the 2022 MLB season — which presumably would leave NHL, MLS, WNBA, NBA and MLB fans with streaming services or Dish in limbo for close to another full year.
Gurwin thought it could take $40 a month to break even, but perhaps Sinclair is more optimistic about the number of subscribers it could garner. Or perhaps Sinclair would be willing to take an initial loss to build up subscribers while eventually increasing the price.
Gurwin also imagined a future where Sinclair tied subscription prices to in-app gambling, a natural tie-in with the Bally brand as more states legalize sports wagering. Whether that sounds great or dystopian to you probably depends on your point of view.
If Sinclair is able to pull this off — The Post reported that it still needs to negotiate with leagues, which undoubtedly would be a significant hurdle — it would be a game-changer that could further segment how sports are delivered to consumers.
Not needing a cable, satellite or streaming bundle to watch local teams is just not an in-market option right now (at least not a legal one).
Whether it all ends up being better for the consumer or more costly to pick and choose what you want is another question.