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Why the AT&T Sportsnet RSNs Will Continue Operating (For Now)

Written by John O'Connor

Published on

Despite turmoil in the regional sports network industry, AT&T Sportsnet RSNs have valuable cable TV contracts in place which will ensure their survival, in one form or another, for awhile longer.

With Diamond Sports Group filing for bankruptcy, and Warner Bros. Discovery announcing plans to end operations for its family of AT&T Sportsnet regional sports networks (RSNs), the RSN business model in mid-size and smaller markets is doomed.

However, despite a downturn that has been dubbed “RSN Armageddon” by Sports Business Journal, the AT&T Sportsnet RSNs (and possibly the Bally Sports RSNs as well) will likely live on for a season or two longer before they fade out for good?


Cable TV contracts.

Warner Bros. Discovery announced it was pulling the plug on its AT&T Sportsnet RSNs (Rocky Mountain, Southwest, and Pittsburgh) in light of shrinking revenues as more households move away from cable. The AT&T Sportsnet RSNs can no longer afford contracts like the reported $60 million annual deal the channel had for the Pittsburgh Pirates local TV rights. When more families are paying for a cable bundle that includes AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh, or another AT&T Sportsnet RSN, Warner Bros. Discovery could pay the Pirates for local TV rights and make money from the carriage fees they received from each new cable TV account that included the channel.

However, those days are gone with the rise of live TV streaming.

This means that smaller and mid-size market RSNs will fade from the scene leaving only the “big boys,” like YES Network and NESN, which can still be run profitably. But just because Warner Bros. is walking away from its RSNs, it doesn’t follow that the channels will all disappear overnight.

Yes, the AT&T Sportsnet RSNs cannot pay the Astros, Rockies, and Pirates this season, and the same principle applies to their NBA and NHL deals. But the existing deals they have with cable and streaming operators means there is infrastructure, and a set of rules, in place to broadcast games.

Were MLB to take over the Pirates, Rockies, and Astros rights under their own umbrella without an AT&T Sportsnet RSN, the cable deals would have to be renegotiated, and for a lot less money. The flagging RSNs lose money, but they still have short-term value.

So, as long as the struggling RSNs have cable TV deals in place, expect new operators to take over and continue to run the channels while they look for a new solution.

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