As many have probably heard by now, Diamond Sports, a subsidiary of Sinclair Sports Group and operator of 14 regional sports networks under the Bally Sports brand, has filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an attempt to restructure and eliminate approximately $8 billion in debt. Bally Sports Southwest is the main broadcaster for the San Antonio Spurs, showing 60 of their 82 games during the 2022-23 season, so will this have any impact on being able to watch the Spurs going forward?
In the short term, the answer is no, because Diamond has stated they “will continue to operate in the ordinary course during the Chapter 11 process.” With the 2022-23 NBA season so close to being over (and regional broadcasting ends after the second round of the playoffs), the remainder of this season will fall in that timeline of continuous operations while Diamond continues to figure out how to proceed. Their stated goal is to “use the proceedings to restructure and strengthen” its balance sheet and return to normal.
So while Spurs fans (and fans of the other 15 NBA teams who use Bally Sports) don’t have to worry about missing the rest of this season, the 2023-24 season (and beyond) is another question. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the issue when fear of this happening was raised during All-Star Weekend, and here’s what he had to say:
“We’ve been in extensive discussions with Diamond … about a potential restructuring, and I’m fairly optimistic we’ll be able to work something out with them. But … if we can’t, we will make sure we have a system in place for delivering those games to fans.”
Silver said in the long-term, he wasn’t overly concerned if Bally Sports ceases to exist “because there are many other ways, platforms, including local over-the-air television, streaming services, other methods to bring those games linear and digitally directly to fans.”
This was a month ago, and Silver has yet to comment now that bankruptcy has officially been filed, but the MLB, whose season is just beginning, has released the following statement:
“Diamond Sports Group’s bankruptcy declaration today is an unfortunate development that we have been expecting. Despite Diamond’s economic situation, there is every expectation that they will continue televising all games they are committed to during the bankruptcy process. Major League Baseball is ready to produce and distribute games to fans in their local markets in the event that Diamond or any other regional sports network is unable to do so as required by their agreement with our clubs.”
This all sounds pretty similar to what Silver had to say, so at this point, it’s hard to know where games will be broadcasted next season, but it sounds like it’s possible Diamond can get it’s act back together and come back, and even if they can’t, they reportedly hope to keep streaming services alive (although the cost for streaming packages may rise). If not, the NBA would likely need to work with local networks in the short term to stream games while working out a new deal with another major network. For the Spurs, that could mean possibly more games on KENS 5 and/or CW35: the two channels that have broadcast their other 22 games this season.
Unfortunately, if that is the case and Bally Sports can’t keep it’s streaming services open, that would bring some San Antonio/Austin viewers back to where they started before this season when Bally Sports+ was launched: blacked out from NBA League Pass with no cable-free streaming service available. If that happens, maybe the NBA will finally be inclined to lift the blackout zones. The point of blackouts is to force viewers who are in the region of one of the two teams playing to watch it on TV and boost ratings, so there’s no point in that if they aren’t contractually obligated to any television providers long-term.
It will likely be several months before we know if Bally Sports can recover or if Spurs broadcasts will need a new home next season, but fans can rest assured that the NBA has been preparing for this and will have a solution in place by the time the 2023-24 season kicks off. We’ll keep you informed here at Pounding the Rock as more news comes out.
*As one final note, I could not confirm if the Spurss broadcasting crew of Bill Land, Sean Elliott, Dan Weiss and Matt Bonner are employed by them or Bally Sports. (I know that Land was an employee of Fox Sports back in the day, but that could be different now.) Some teams employ their broadcasters, and some are employed by the network, but I would imagine their jobs are safe, regardless.