MLB could take over local TV broadcasts of 14 teams

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About $1 billion of Major League Baseball‘s revenue is at risk if a cable television company fails to make payments for local broadcasting rights to 14 teams, and the sport is preparing to take over telecasts.

“I think you should assume that if Diamond doesn’t broadcast, we’ll be in a position to step in,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after an owners’ meeting. “Our goal would be to make games available not only within the traditional cable bundle but on the digital side, as well.”

Sinclair acquired 21 regional sports networks in 2019 from The Walt Disney Co., which had taken them over as part of its purchase of 21st Century Fox. Sinclair also holds rights to 16 NBA teams and 12 NHL franchises, and teams fear in an era of cord-cutting they may not get payments from Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary operating the networks under the name Bally Sports.

“What we do is largely dependent on how Diamond and the creditors play their cards, what they decide to do,” Manfred said. “Our No. 1 goal in terms of preparations is that if for some reason Diamond isn’t broadcasting, that we want to be in a position to make sure our fans are going to get their games.”

Asked whether $1 billion or $2 billion was at stake, Manfred said: “Closer with the first number than the second.”

Billy Chambers, who had been Sinclair’s chief financial offer, started work this month with MLB in a new position as executive vice president for local media.

Diamond owns rights to local broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.

Baseball executives met at The Breakers, a 97-year-old Renaissance Revival style hotel. The lobby was filled with a mix of baseball executives and women in pink floral summer dresses, some in hats, attending the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Palm Beach Hot Pink Luncheon and Symposium.

Oakland/Las Vegas ballpark

On other major topic, Manfred said he views the Athletics’ search for a new ballpark as “Oakland and/or Las Vegas.”

“This year they kind of got a deadline,” he said. “They need to have an agreement in place by next January — really important from the perspective of the club.”

Ray’s ballpark

Tampa Bay announced plans on Jan. 30 to build a ballpark near Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The team has been searching for a new stadium for 15 years, and owner Stu Sternberg says the Rays can’t afford to stay in their current ballpark when their lease expires after the 2027 season.

“We did not talk about the Rays situation,” Manfred said. “Everything that’s happened recently Stu covered in great detail in the last owners meeting. We had a nice layout of what was coming, so there was no real update there.”

Starting extra innings with runner on second

The rule was adopted as a pandemic measure for the 2020 season and appears likely to stay.

“The clubs discussed the permanence of that rule. It’s got to go back to the on-field committee,” Manfred said. “Clubs have gotten used to the extra-innings rule. I think it’s generally well-liked by players. I don’t bet on anything, but if you were going to make a bet, it think it’s a pretty good bet it’s going to continue.”

Revenue disparity

A new committee on economic reform met this week.

“Revenue disparity, really important topic in the industry right now. It’s not unrelated to the local media issues,” Manfred said.

Manfred said MLB had $10.8 billion in revenue last year. Some teams have become alarmed the New York Mets, entering their third season under owner Steve Cohen, have increased payroll to about $370 million — well above the record $291 million of the 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I think people know what happened in the winter. I think that they understand that it happened within the confines of the system they negotiated and beating your gums about it doesn’t accomplish a lot,” Manfred said. “In aggregate, I think that the group has matured into better.”

Executive council

San Francisco chairman Greg Johnson replaced Colorado chairman Dick Montfort and Cleveland chairman Paul Dolan replaced Boston principal owner John Henry on the executive council.

The council also includes Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter and Detroit Tigers chairman Christopher Ilitch (whose terms expire in 2024); Philadelphia managing partner John Middleton and Kansas City chairman John Sherman (2025) and Arizona managing general partner Ken Kendrick and Seattle chairman John Stanton (2026)

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