September 26, 2022

Is there good news coming for fans trying to watch Bally Sports North?

Having written about and talked about several frustrating and/or negative moments in the ongoing battle…

Having written about and talked about several frustrating and/or negative moments in the ongoing battle between Sinclair and multiple carriers — including but not limited to declining Twins television ratings and fans frustrated because they can’t watch games — I am relieved to at least bring you all a report that hints at … good news.

Could it be?

Well, perhaps. Let’s not get too excited yet. But John Ourand, who covers the business of sports and media about as well as anyone, wrote Monday that there appears to be some movement in key negotiations between Sinclair and Dish (subscription required).

To back up for a moment: Sinclair, which owns 21 regional sports networks including Bally Sports North (formerly Fox Sports North), has been at an impasse with several carriers. Those RSNs were dropped from Dish, a satellite provider with 8.7 million customers, in 2019 and have not returned. They have also been dropped from several streaming carriers — most notably YouTube TV and Hulu after the 2020 MLB season.

Virtually every Twins, Wild and Wolves game is on BSN, as well as some United and Lynx games, so fans of those teams who have those satellite/streaming providers have been unable to watch their favorite teams for months (and in the case of Dish years).

But as I talked about on Tuesday’s Daily Delivery podcast, Ourand reports that negotiations between Sinclair and Dish over local channels could be a signal that a deal with RSNs is also in the offing.

If you don’t see the podcast player, tap here to listen.

Per Ourand (h/t to Matt Wells for flagging this and sending it to me): Several sources have convinced me that an RSN deal is in the offing. The main reason: the fact that Dish CEO Charlie Ergen, who once was a professional poker player, agreed to an extension in the first place. … One exec who has negotiated with Ergen many times said that it’s inconceivable that Dish would have agreed to any extension unless there was a deal to be had.

That might seem like a logical leap because the negotiations between Sinclair and Dish — a deal that was set to expire on Aug. 16 but received a 10-day extension that expires in a couple of days — right now are about local over-the-air channels and not RSNs.

But Ourand’s point is that the sides are negotiating in good faith on that front and there is reason to believe per industry insiders that a deal on regional sports networks will follow.

What would that deal look like? Again, per Ourand: That could include anything from sweetheart terms on Sinclair’s planned OTT service to a deal that will allow Dish to pick and choose the RSNs it will carry. Who knows? The deal will set a precedent for the RSNs and will be good enough for Dish that other distributors will line up to get similar terms.

Those last two points are interesting. If Dish can pick and choose which of the 21 RSNs it wants to carry, that could still leave some fans in the lurch — though Bally Sports North has traditionally had strong ratings for multiple Minnesota teams and at least seems to me like one of the stronger properties of the bunch.

And if Dish comes to terms with Sinclair, perhaps that would pave the way as Ourand suggests for others to follow.

This is all still a bit speculative, but at least the speculation is positive instead of negative for a change.

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