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Sinclair raising $250m for new sports streaming service

Sinclair Broadcast Group is quietly raising money for a new service that would stream games by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dallas Mavericks and scores of other popular sports teams to fans over the Internet, The Post has learned.

The publicly traded media company — which owns exclusive rights to broadcast games for dozens of Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams — is working with investment bank LionTree to raise more than $250 million for the venture, according to two sources with knowledge of the plans.

Sinclair has been telling hedge funds and other potential investors that it aims to charge $23 a month to fans who want to stream games in markets where it owns sports broadcasting rights, sources said.

Fans who live outside of Sinclair’s 21 territories, where it owns broadcasting rights tied to 42 teams, would likely be out of luck.

The service, which Sinclair hopes to launch at the start of the baseball season next year, stands to be a game-changer for fans — and a major nuisance for the cable industry.

“This is a major, major development,” a director for a non-Sinclair broadcaster told The Post. “And if Sinclair is successful it will change the industry more quickly than I imagined.”

While the NBA offers League Pass for out-of-town fans, there are limited streaming options for hometown fans to watch their local sports teams besides cable. That is because sports teams for decades have sold rights to air their games to broadcasters like Fox and Sinclair, which then charge cable and satellite TV operators to distribute the games to their customers.

Sinclair in 2019 paid a whopping $9.6 billion for 21 regional sports networks owned by Fox, giving it exclusive rights to 14 MLB teams, 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL teams.

At the time, news of the deal sent Sinclair’s shares up 35 percent. But the investment has since run into trouble as cable operators suffering from cord-cutting seek to lower the amount they pay to air those games.

Tensions between cable operators and broadcasters have gotten so heated in recent years that satellite TV operator Dish in July 2019 stopped paying for rights to Sinclair’s games altogether — correctly betting that its customers wouldn’t drop their Dish subscriptions any faster than before.

Even without sports streaming, eMarketer forecasts that more than one-third of US homes by 2024 will not have cable or satellite service.

Sinclair also owns 20 percent of YES network, which airs Yankees and Brooklyn Nets games. It’s unclear if Sinclair’s streaming service would include YES as it’s controlled by the Yankees.

This year the Yankees for the first time plan to stream 21 out of 162 Yankees games over Amazon Prime. Fans who want to watch those games only need to have a Prime subscription, not a cable subscription.

But that’s a rarity. Most sports fans are forced to subscribe to cable.

And while $23 a month is steep for streaming — costing as much as Disney+ and Netflix combined — it’s cheap compared to a monthly cable bill.

Fans of the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers, for example, currently have to pay AT&T $85 a month to get access to those games through Sinclair’s Bally Sports unit. At $23 a month, they would be reducing their costs by more than two-thirds.

Of course, Sinclair will need to negotiate with the NBA, MLB and NHL to secure the rights to stream the games, sources said. Those talks are not finalized, and sources say Sinclair is raising money now to show the leagues it has the funds to back its ambitious venture.

“I think there is a better than 50 percent chance this will happen,” one of the sources said, conceding there were a lot of moving parts.

If it succeeds, it’s projecting 4.4 million streaming customers by 2027, or more than YouTube TV or Sling have currently, a source said. The company is also projecting that its streaming subsidiary will break-even by 2024, the source added.

Sinclair is also expected to seek the rights to out-of-market games, although that could prove more difficult, the source said. If it gets those rights, it could charge a small additional fee for those games.

Sinclair at the end of 2020 had 52 million cable subscribers. But with the revenue it gets from cable operators declining, it needs to take the risk that it loses some of those customers to pay for its 2019 sports investment.

Sinclair’s posted annual earnings of $1.89 billion on an adjusted basis last year, below the $2.6 billion it had predicted it would earn when it bought Fox’s regional sports networks in 2019. Meanwhile, the $8 billion in loans it took out to support its acquisition is underwater, with the most junior debt trading at 60 cents on the dollar.

The plan is to strip out the streaming rights into a new subsidiary and use proceeds from the streaming service to help pay its creditors, a source said.

The question now is whether the leagues will OK the plan, and that could depend on how it will affect teams.

Greg Bouris, the Sports Management Program Director at Adelphi University and former communications director for the MLB Players Association, believes teams may take at least a short term loss if Sinclair proves to be successful since this will mean even less revenue from cable providers.

“I think the economics will go backwards and this could be very disruptive. If I was a team owner, I’d be a little nervous.”

But there’s no doubt it would be good for fans, he said.

“If you go a la carte, then less is more. I could see this really benefiting the consumer,” who no longer would need to have cable television to watch their local teams. New York Post

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