August 23, 2019. The beginning of the end for easy, accessible sports content on many Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) through the provider of your choice. Sinclair Broadcast Group closed the purchase of 21 RSNs and Fox College Sports (including Fox Sports Kansas City — now rebranded to Bally Sports KC) from Disney. At the time of that deal, regional Fox Sports channels were available on numerous platforms, outside of your local cable or satellite provider. Now they are on just one — AT&T TV (former known as U-Verse) — unless you aren’t local.
First they were pulled from Dish Network and Sling TV in 2019.
Then they were pulled from Fubo TV in January 2020.
YouTube TV lost the channels in September of 2020.
And finally Hulu Live lost them in October of 2020.
Maybe “pulled” is harsh. The distribution deals were up for renegotiation and Sinclair played hardball. They asked for higher fees, how much higher is unclear, and one-by-one deals were not agreed to and the reach of these channels receded further. Executives at Disney (Hulu), Google (YouTube TV) and Dish (who own Sling) all said the price increases were very large. Sinclair disagrees.
“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.”
Whatever the case is, your options are currently, very limited. Additionally, the decision by Sinclair to stick almost exclusively to traditional TV options is puzzling. Cable and Satellite services are hemorrhaging customers. In 2020 they lost over five million subscribers across just the largest cable and satellite providers (and they nearly lost another five million the year before). However, AT&T TV and Charter (who owns Spectrum), actually had marginal gains. Possibly because of these RSNs which are basically not available anywhere else.
What are Sporting KC and the Royals Saying?
Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer and the Kansas City Royals of Major League Baseball are both under contract to broadcast their local games on Bally Sports KC (formerly Fox Sports KC). SKC have just two years left on a three year deal. The Royals have an astronomical nine years (!) left on their contract.
Sporting KC President & CEO, Jake Reid, was less than pleased.
“Hugely frustrating,” Reid started. “The reason we did the deal with Fox at the time was because of the wide distribution. The goalposts have changed on that, so we’re trying to figure out what that looks like for us long-term. But this is not an acceptable solution for us to get games to fans, as it stands right now.”
Reid went on to say, “easily over 30 percent” of SKC fans wouldn’t be able to access these soccer matches under the current deal. On the Mellinger Minutes podcast, he went further, saying “I’m not throwing those guys (Sinclair) under the bus but I think it’s important for people to understand, this isn’t what we signed up for. For us, this is not an acceptable solution for the long-term, so I don’t have a good solution for you right now but we’re actively trying to figure that out.”
That doesn’t do anything to help players watch games in the short term. However, Royals owner John Sherman sure seems to be making a suggestion.
“There’s ways you can get our games if you want them,” said Sherman. “We certainly encourage people (to find those ways).”
It's hard not to read this as the Royals owner saying to get a VPN and go around Bally Sports KC.— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) April 3, 2021
“There’s ways you can get our games if you want them,” Sherman said. “We certainly encourage people (to find those ways)."#SportibgKC's Reid is quoted too.https://t.co/LWVq2aLktD
Sherman can say he intended fans to sign up for cable, DirecTV or AT&T, but I read that as ‘go bypass Sinclair and get a VPN.’
How Can I Watch these Games?
If you live out of market, it’s the easiest to watch SKC. Get ESPN+ for just $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year (it’s also in a reasonable bundle with Disney + and Hulu that you may have already got for that sweet Mandalorian content on Disney).
In market, it’s a mess.
You can get AT&T TV, which doesn’t make you sign a contract, for $84.99 month. That’s much more than Sling ($35), or YouTube TV, Hulu Live or fuboTV (all $64.99). AT&T also makes you pay more for unlimited DVR (20 hours is their included option, where YouTube it’s in the original price).
You can also sign up for Spectrum cable which includes Bally Sports in their base package. However, to get DVR and just one set-top box you are already up to $78.91/month and that’s just for the first year. Add another $7.99 for each box you want and another $4.99 if you want that box to have DVR. It was also unclear if you’d be signing a contract with them (I went through the signup process but I literally couldn’t open the terms and conditions without giving them my name and phone number).
And don’t get me started on DirecTV which started at $69.99 before a $9.99 RSN fee plus taxes, box fees AND a 2-year contract.
With the Royals season already underway and Sporting KC starting on the 17th, I imagine lots of fans will choose to skirt the rules and look into alternative options to watch the team(s) they love. Or they just won’t watch at all. It feels short sighted for these teams to not have an out in their contract if such a large percentage of fans (above 30 percent for SKC!) can’t get access to their games in market. The NFL is free over the air for many games. It shouldn’t be this hard to watch soccer or baseball.
What is your plan for watching Sporting KC in 2021? Or are you just not going to watch? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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