With just over two weeks before Opening Day, Royals fans are anxious to see their team back on the field after the pandemic-shortened season in 2020. But for those that don’t have a cable subscription, it is looking like it will be very difficult to watch the Royals on television anytime soon.
Fox Sports Kansas City - now rebranded as Bally’s Kansas City - is the rights-holder for Royals games. Sinclair Broadcasting purchased them and 21 other regional sports networks (RSNs) in 2019. Since then, the channel has been dropped by streaming services Sling TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, and Hulu, in addition to DISH Network, a satellite service. Right now, the only streaming service without a cable subscription that carries the Sinclair RSNs seems to be AT&T Now. And the price of their service is going up.
In response to questions as to whether a deal can get done soon, Sinclair has issued the same statement to a number of media outlets:
“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.”
Jason Gurwin, a television industry expert at The Streamable, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it was “unlikely” that the RSNs would be on those streaming services anytime soon.
“Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley was asked about this on an earnings call and he kind of hemmed and hawed around giving a straightforward answer, which in my opinion means they haven’t made a lot of progress. From a financial standpoint, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Hulu Live and YouTubeTV to add back the regional sports networks.”
The reason is money. Sinclair charges service providers for the rights to carry their channels, and for sports, the carriage fees can be quite high. Sinclair is known as a tough negotiator, and service providers like Hulu and YouTube TV are balking at their asking prices. As Gurwin explains:
“A very small percentage of viewers from a streaming TV package are actually watching an RSN, 5 to 10% of subscribers. The 90% of subscribers who don’t watch it are subsidizing the 10% that do,” Gurwin said. ”Given that an RSN is one of the most expensive channels in a cable bundle, it’s just not sustainable for these packages. Even at a more expensive $65 a month, the services are more or less breaking even on the carriage fees that they pay to carry all the channels in the bundle.”
Sinclair is developing their own streaming app, but the details have been murky on what will be included with it. Gurwin says he expects access to the app will require login credentials from a service provider that has an agreement with Sinclair, much like how Fox Sports Go operated. According to the Journal Sentinel, a direct-to-consumer app without login credentials from a service provider won’t be available until at least 2022.
Even MLB TV won’t provide you access to Royals games if you live in the area. Games in Kansas City are blacked out, in order for MLB to provide more value to their broadcast partners and boost revenues. If you live in Iowa, well good luck.
The MLB blackout map that the league follows to the letter of the law. Iowa residents are blacked out of six teams, including the White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, Brewers and Twins. pic.twitter.com/YTgt0VKds4— Gershon Rabinowitz (@GershOnline) July 10, 2020
There are still a few weeks for agreements to be reached, and sometimes these deals are consummated at the last minute. But we are already deep into the NBA season and many teams on the same RSN as their MLB counterpart have been unavailable to cord-cutting fans all season. If Sinclair is trying to develop their own streaming app - one that will incorporate elements of gambling to make “watching sports similar to playing a video game” - they may have little incentive to sell the rights to their games to other streaming services. Baseball may be benefitting its short-term bank account at the expense of its long-term health by making games unavailable for a younger generation of fans that watches games through streaming applications.