Providing a prototype for what future local broadcasts for a number of Major League Baseball teams might look like soon, the league's new regional sports network, "MLB San Diego Padres" will launch on DirecTV platforms, Charter Spectrum, Cox Communications and Fubo in Southern California starting Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. EST, when the Padres take on the Florida Marlins.
According to a DirecTV press release, the new channel can be found on DirecTV linear satellite at channel 694-3, on DirecTV Stream at 694, and on U-verse via HD channel 1781 and SD channel 781. The channel will show up on DirecTV program guides as "Padres."
MLB will provide pre- and postgame programming, with the Padres supplying the in-game production, as well as their own announcing crew (play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo, analyst Mark Grant and on-field reporter Bob Scanlan).
The broadcast won't just be confined to DirecTV systems in Southern California, but also show up on those in Southern Nevada, Southern Arizona and portions of New Mexico and Hawaii.
“We will always do our best to ensure fans can continue to access the games while we work behind the scenes with leagues, teams or other would-be rights holders to deliver the best live local sports into the communities we serve,” said Rob Thun, chief content officer of DirecTV, in a statement.
Fans can also stream the games direct-to-consumer via the MLB.TV app. That service is free to San Diego area baseball fans through Sunday, with no blackout restrictions. After that, they'll be charged $19.99 a month.
For Padres fans, the viewing options are almost identical to the Bally Sports channel from which the Padres are fleeing.
"It's a case of meet the new boss same as the old boss," sports media consultant Pat Crakes told Next TV. "It looks like distributors will keep the RSN (now operated by MLB) and the steaming component will be priced so that it doesn’t compete with the pay TV bundled price (just as Ballys Sports Plus was)."
And the MLB could soon be setting up similar channels for other teams, as well.
Until Tuesday, the Padres were one of 14 MLB teams that flew under the banner of Bally Sports, a collection regional sports network channels owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and managed by a subsidiary, Diamond Sports Group, which is now in bankruptcy.
Diamond entered restructuring in a Texas bankruptcy court in March, hoping to trim up to $8 billion in debt, mainly by forcing pro sports team partners in money-losing deals to renegotiate terms.
Diamond also hoped to leverage MLB clubs to join its $20-a-month Bally Sports Plus DTC streaming service. Currently, only five of the 14 MLB teams in the Bally linear portfolio (well, 13 now) have offered up their DTC rights to Diamond.
Let's just say that the restructuring hasn't gone to Diamond's plan.
From the moment Sinclair paid $10.6 billion to buy 19 Fox Sports-branded local sports channels, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been against teams giving up their DTC rights.
Hoping to ease the dissonance, Sinclair distanced itself from its subsidiary, putting former NBC RSN executive David Preschlack in charge of it, but Manfred and Baseball didn't budge
Not only were the Padres one of the nine MLB teams not in the Bally Sports Plus portfolio, Diamond was losing more money on their $60 million-a-year deal than with any other MLB club.
"The Padres deal was probably the least profitable currently of all the MLB teams and given it was still early in the deal’s term it was slated to become even more so. Diamond asked for DTC rights to compensate and MLB said no," Crakes added in a text to Next TV.
On Tuesday, Diamond missed the final deadline to pay the Padres for their TV rights, sending MLB into action on its own plan to take over TV distribution for any team Diamond didn't pay.
"MLB has forced our hand by its continued refusal to negotiate direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming rights for all teams in our portfolio despite our proposal to pay every team in full in exchange for those rights," Diamond said in a Wednesday statement.
Since the Padres own a piece of their Bally Sports channel, the bankruptcy court was powerless to intervene, and the club, working with the MLB, established its own TV distribution.
The Padres have the third highest payroll in baseball, and owe two players, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, a combined $700 million over the next decade.
Will the team's new arrangement meet the challenge of those commitments? Sports Business Journal's John Ourand provided interesting Twitter commentary Wednesday to address that issue:
This is the $60 million question. https://t.co/vEUG3N9CGZMay 30, 2023
Other teams might be asking themselves similar questions soon.
Also on Wednesday, Commissioner Manfred was one of several MLB officials set to testify in a Texas bankruptcy court hearing, which is weighing a petition by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers to exit their Bally Sports contracts.
Not only have these teams not ponied up their DTC rights to Bally Sports Plus, but Diamond is losing money on each of their individual RSN deals. Initially, Diamond demurred on each of these teams 2023 TV rights payments, telling the court it would pay up once restructured deals are figured out.
Since those teams don't have the same kind of JV arrangement the Padres do with Diamond and merely collect local TV licensing rights, the judge rejected MLB's motion to cut them loose from Bally Sports.
But the judge also ruled that Diamond must pay 75% of each team's payment until the restructuring is hammered. On Wednesday, MLB is once again arguing that the teams should be released from Bally Sports commitments now, given Diamond has no intention of paying their full respective contracted rates.
A decision wasn't expected to come Wednesday.