Baltimore Sun

Diamond Sports Group files for bankruptcy

Sinclair Broadcast subsidiary asks for reorganiza­tion while burdened by $8B-plus in debt

- By Lorraine Mirabella

Diamond Sports Group, a struggling subsidiary of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group that owns regional sports networks, filed for a bankruptcy reorganiza­tion late Tuesday, burdened by more than $8 billion in debt.

The move, expected after Diamond chose to miss a debt payment last month, sent Sinclair’s stock tumbling, closing down more than 5% at $13.81 a share Wednesday.

Diamond said in an announceme­nt Tuesday evening that it’s finalizing a “restructur­ing support” agreement with holders of a majority of the company’s debt and with Sinclair that will eliminate much of the outstandin­g debt.

It filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code allows companies to continue operating as they try to restructur­e their finances.

While it works through bankruptcy to restructur­e and strengthen its balance sheet, Diamond said it expects its 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks to continue broadcasti­ng live sports in states such as Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

The company is the nation’s largest owner of cable TV sports channels that showcase more than half of all Major League Baseball, NHL and NBA teams.

Sinclair holds the rights to broadcast games for 14 MLB teams, nearly half in the league, including the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. The regular season starts March 30.

MLB called the bankruptcy filing unfortunat­e but expected.

“Despite Diamond’s economic situation, there is every expectatio­n that they will continue televising all games they are committed to during the bankruptcy process,” the league said in a statement.

The league said it is prepared to produce and distribute games to fans in their local markets in the event that Diamond or any other regional sports networks are unable to do so, as required by agreements with clubs.

The restructur­ing agreement would allow Diamond to separate its business from Sinclair and become a stand-alone company. In Chapter 11, such a restructur­ing would require the agreement of Diamond’s creditors and the federal bankruptcy judge.

Diamond’s board of managers has been working with advisers and in coordinati­on with creditors to “position the company for long-term success and has determined that the best path forward for the company and its stakeholde­rs is to restructur­e through a

Chapter 11 process,” Diamond CEO David Preschlack said in a statement.

Diamond said it has about $425 million cash on hand to fund its business and restructur­ing.

Sinclair, the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, had reported Nov. 28 that it took a large loss on the value of the regional sports networks for the second time since buying them in 2019 for $10.6 billion from The Walt Disney Co.

Diamond, the Sinclair subsidiary created to hold those networks, wrote off $1 billion of the rebranded 19 networks’ book value in the recent third quarter, when it reported a loss of $1.2 billion.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020 after national sports leagues canceled games and cut seasons short, Sinclair took a $4.2 billion charge to goodwill and intangible assets related to the sports networks. Diamond also has operated in an environmen­t in which viewers are increasing­ly turning to streaming services instead of paying for cable.

Under the restructur­ing agreement, Diamond’s secured and unsecured creditors will be offered equity and warrants issued by a reorganize­d Diamond. Sinclair is expected to continue to provide management services during the bankruptcy and transition services for a period after Diamond emerges from Chapter 11.

“With the support of our creditors, we expect to execute a prompt and efficient reorganiza­tion and emerge from the restructur­ing process as a stronger company,” Preschlack said in the announceme­nt.

Experts have said the outcome of any restructur­ing would raise questions about the future of regional broadcasti­ng rights revenue for the profession­al sports leagues.

Speaking to reporters last month at the start of spring training, MLB Commission­er Rob Manfred said the league was prepared in the event Diamond was unable to pay rights fees amid any restructur­ing.

“Obviously, we want all of our broadcast partners to be successful,” Manfred said according to ESPN. “We don’t want them to have financial difficulti­es, and we have been spending a lot of time and effort trying to work with them, figure out where they are.

“Obviously, our first choice would be that Diamond pay the clubs what they’re contractua­lly obligated to pay them, but because I guess I’m a contingenc­y planner by nature, we are prepared no matter what happens with respect to Diamond to make sure that games are available to fans in their local markets.”

Manfred added that games likely would be available via cable bundles and digitally on MLB platforms, but “that remains to be seen,” ESPN reported.

Preschlack said in Tuesday’s announceme­nt

that the company expects to work with its team and league partners throughout the process and beyond.

He said Diamond’s employees “remain focused on producing high-quality sports games that our fans have come to expect.”

In its statement released after the filing, MLB said that over the long term “we will reimagine our distributi­on model to address the changing media climate and ultimately reach an even larger number of fans.”

Diamond is trying to reinvent itself as another large media company looking to get out of the regional sports business altogether.

Warner Bros. Discovery, which operates three AT&T SportsNet-branded channels in Denver, Houston and Pittsburgh and has a minority stake in the Root Sports channel in Seattle, told the 10 teams with which it has rights agreements that they have until March 31 to take their broadcast rights back through an agreement or the channels eventually could move forward with a Chapter 7 liquidatio­n filing, Sports Business Journal reported last month.

“AT&T SportsNet is not immune to the well-known challenges that the entire RSN industry is facing,” Warner Bros. Discovery said in a statement to Sports Business. “We will continue to engage in private conversati­ons with our partners as we seek to identify reasonable and constructi­ve solutions.”

 ?? COURTESY ?? Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Hunt Valley-based broadcaste­r, is evaluating investor proposals on how to rework the debt load of its regional sports network unit as it also prepares to sign new deals with sports betting companies.
COURTESY Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Hunt Valley-based broadcaste­r, is evaluating investor proposals on how to rework the debt load of its regional sports network unit as it also prepares to sign new deals with sports betting companies.

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