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A long rest after an important win, Mark Cuban sums up broadcast buzz

April 2, 2024, 6:02 PM ET [5 Comments]
Jeremy Laura
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Last night’s win over Tampa still feels surreal. A little inside baseball, er, hockey. When you wake up trying to balance the reality of another loss with tempered expectations that come with a full rebuild enough times, it becomes a staple. Instagram clips of Detroit sports personalities screaming into the camera, write ups tearing the team to shreds, “rumors” with absolutely no merit and a GM that says as little as possible stir the drink. Then you take it all and squeeze it into a blog. Last night’s win flipped the script.

Watching the game with my texting buddy away in the U.P. And then Wisconsin there was no one to bounce the real time reactions off of. Detroit gets two goals against waived off, and then gives up a shorty seconds after the second retraction. Then Fabbri gets the lead, then Copp puts Tampa on a power play, etc. Perron’s go ahead tally in the third felt big, but was the other shoe going to drop? Larkin sprawls out on a Dzone faceoff, gets the puck to Raymond and the insurance empty net goal lifted the veil. The cloud of uncertainty that has been with the team in a matter akin to the character “Pigpen” and his dust from the Peanuts cartoon.

Now, Detroit faces the “rest vs. rust” scenario of several days off. Plenty of time for the adrenaline to wear off as they face another offensively gifted team in the Rangers. The comments section for the post game write up had some good drop ins. One comment said that if Detroit does make the post season, last night’s game will have been the key to the final stretch. There are a lot of days to analyze and ponder a season series sweep of Tampa. An unexpected but welcome entry on the list of what the team has accomplished this season.

Fair warning - this is the Bally update and preview for tomorrow’s ESPN shareholder call. A good time to bail if this isn’t your particular bag.

As odd as it sounds, the NBA and NHL are inextricably linked in multiple ways. Both have ESPN and Bally deals, many arenas double to accommodate both sports, the season is similar in games played. A short time ago Mark Cuban sold off the Dallas Mavericks. A recent quote surfaced courtesy of a social media poster who does well to keep track of basketball (men and women’s pro, men and women’s collegiate, and even Ice Cube’s Big 3 league). Mark took a perceived hit of over 1 billion by selling the team now (received around 3.5b instead of 5b). His answer for the sale was simple. “We all see what’s happening to the ratings”.

The NBA isn’t pulling anywhere near the numbers the once dominant entity held onto. League averages are being reported anywhere from sub 1 million, to 1.4 to 2 million. In context, those are numbers the NHL would love to have. Until the post season reports are tallied, it’s uncertain if the estimated sub 700k numbers are accurate. We’ve seen articles saying that fans should hope for NYR, TOR, and EDM to have long playoff runs. Projected revenues right now seem to be optimistic even at the minimum 5% mandate (that can and has been overturned in past seasons). Well, regardless of ads on jerseys, the two major network partners are setting the table for a stressful offseason in terms of broadcast decisions.

Bally sports update as of March first. Diamond sports which owns the Bally name and is the parent company (underneath Sinclair) is cutting all ties with the broadcaster. Some of you have seen the commercial for the stand alone streaming subscription. In what will be one of the last filings, revenues are down an estimated 35% due to “cord cutting”. The move to streaming is being done in hopes of an ability for the RSN to find new life. The MLB is looking for alternatives and looking at creating an in house network to get away from regional broadcasts and be a self contained entity.

If you can believe it, it’s been 1 year since the Bally bankruptcy collided with 4 rounds of ESPN layoffs and the NHL had to agree to lower revenues on the Bally side. The town hall/share holder meeting heard around the world will happen again tomorrow. The parent company reiterated that ESPN will be fully streaming by 2025. Specifics are hard to come by but prices ranging from 30-50 dollars per month seem fairly consistent. So what?

Here’s the final piece. A la carte broadcasting is manifesting. Charter’s dispute with ESPN showed that 2/3 of people with ESPN as part of their lineup didn’t watch the network. However, they were paid a fee monthly for every subscriber that had the network available. To move from that to a place where an individual has to choose to subscribe to the single entity seems to have a built in drop off. And even though the NBA is being badly outdrawn by March Madness (men’s and women’s) it is still the most important IP the network owns. Those rights are up for renewal and a bidding war with up to 5 entities (all streaming) seems to be brewing.

The 330 million annually to the NHL from ESPN matters to the sport. The NBA gets closer to 2 billion and is asking for 6-7 on a 10 or 12 years deal. In normal times, that would be impossible. For Apple and Amazon, that money can be found. They want live sports. We do not know where the Bally markets will land at this point.

Once the call is done and ESPN has said their piece, it will take a day to try and break it all down. The broadcast issues are well known by reporters but aren’t really talked about. That was the impetus for this journey down the rabbit hole. Keep your eyes and ears open to the end of season language on Bally broadcasts. It is not something anyone seems anxious to address. This is a huge opportunity for the NHL to centralize broadcasting and make it easier on the fans. We’ll see if that’s the chosen road.
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