Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred recently sat down for an interview with the JohnWallStreet blog. He was asked his opinions on Disney’s sale of the 22 regional sports networks it acquired from Fox. His answer is raising a few eyebrows in the sports media world.
JWS: The Yankees are going to re-acquire control of the YES Network. The Cubs have discussed doing the same in 2020. Does MLB want its teams to control their broadcast rights? Does the league care who ends up buying the other 21 Fox RSNs?
Manfred: We’re very interested in the RSN sale process and have preferences in terms of who the owners are going to be. Candidly, we’re looking at the RSNs ourselves.
JWS: MLB renewed its media rights partnership with Fox Sports (includes World Series), with a +39% increase in value 3 years early. As teams’ current deals expire, would you expect local broadcast rights to grow at a similar rate?
Manfred: Yeah, I think that content is going to continue to increase in value as we move forward. It may be different bidders, different companies that are involved, but I think the most important point is that content has durable value.
The obvious questions are 1) “Who does MLB prefer own the RSNs?” and 2) “What would it take for MLB to make a bid of their own?”.
Does Manfred have concerns over streaming rights and how an Amazon take over of those regional sports networks could effect the future of MLB.TV? Does the Major League Baseball office fear what an association with the heavily scrutinized Sinclair Media Group would do for its brand image? There is no real way to know those answers without Manfred saying who he prefers win the bidding and why, so let’s instead talk about the idea of Major League Baseball bidding for those networks.
There are plenty of cost factors to consider. Not only would a new bidder likely drive up the price, but there would be a whole new set of production costs the league and its teams would be responsible for. There is also the question of what exactly MLB wants to buy. If the Yankees want to reacquire the controlling interest in the YES Network, would that be part of this deal or would YES exist outside of this deal?
There are advantages too, particularly in the streaming world. Awful Announcing‘s Andrew Bucholtz points out that “it would make it a lot easier to do cross-RSN initiatives, such as in-market streaming, and would also give the league a whole lot of control over over-the-top options; if MLB controls both the local rights and the national rights, that could potentially allow for MLB.tv subscription levels that ignore in-market blackouts.”
Another question worth asking is how would acquiring 22 regional networks effect the MLB Network. Surely the league wouldn’t want to create a scenario where they own two networks in a market that are essentially simulcasts of each other.
These questions may be a lot of consternation over nothing. Although the first round of bidding is over, it is still not entirely impossible that Fox or Comcast don’t find a way into the bidding in the second round. Surely groups that MLB already has working relationships with would ease Manfred’s mind and reduce the league’s desire to make a bid. This could also be posturing to make sure whoever wins the bidding is prepared to treat the league’s teams the way they feel they deserve to be treated.
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.
Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.