North America’s Major League Baseball (MLB) has added three executives to its newly formed Local Media Department as it prepares to take control of the local broadcasts for 17 teams amid the financial collapse of the Bally Sports and AT&T SportsNet regional sports networks (RSNs).
Doug Johnson, former vice president and executive producer at AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, has been hired as senior vice president and executive producer of local media, while Greg Pennell, former vice president of finance and operations at Bally Sports, will become the department’s senior vice president of local media.
Kendall Burgess, former vice president of technical operations for Bally Sports, will step in as the vice president of local media technical operations.
The new hires will report to Billy Chambers, Sinclair’s former chief financial officer, who was hired by MLB as executive vice president for local media last month.
Noah Garden, MLB chief revenue officer, said: “These new hires are an important step in our preparation to address the changing landscape of MLB game distribution in light of the increasing challenges and pressure facing RSNs.
“The decades of experience and expertise in game production and operations that Doug, Greg, and Kendall bring to MLB reinforces our commitment to deliver the highest quality game telecasts to our fans.”
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The MLB’s launch of the new Local Media Department and the new hires pave the way for MLB to take over the rights and centralize broadcasts and redistribute them in the wake of the financial collapse of two of its RSN partners.
Last month, Diamond Sports Group (DSG), the subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group that operates the Bally Sports RSNs in the US, announced it is preparing for bankruptcy after skipping a debt repayment.
DSG announced its decision to miss its $140-million interest payment and enter into a 30-day grace period. The company is now expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would allow it to restructure its huge $8.6 billion debts.
DSG holds the rights to 14 MLB teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, and Texas Rangers.
Last week, meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery, the multinational media and entertainment giant, said it is seeking to exit the RSN business in the US.
The company informed MLB’s Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Pittsburgh Pirates it would stop operating its three AT&T SportsNet-branded channels in the three regions.
The media heavyweight sent a letter to the teams stating that it does not have the cash to pay upcoming rights fees and will not fund the shortfall.
WBD proposed to hand control of the RSNs over to the teams and leagues and has reportedly given them until March 31 to reach an agreement to buy their broadcast rights back.
If a deal is not reached, the company could look to liquidate the assets through Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Last month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league is prepared to take over local broadcasts from Sinclair should DSG fail to make its payments.
Speaking after an owners’ meeting, he said: “I think you should assume that if Diamond doesn’t broadcast, we’ll be in a position to step in.
“Our goal would be to make games available not only within the traditional cable bundle but on the digital side as well.”
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