ARLINGTON, Texas — A United States federal judge approved a wind-down plan for Diamond Sports Group on Wednesday, setting up a potential path to an endgame for the broadcaster and its bankruptcy proceedings. Questions and contingencies still loom, however, particularly regarding Diamond’s dealings with Major League Baseball and two of its teams.
Diamond, which runs the Bally regional sports networks, still has deals in place with 11 MLB teams, but two are in jeopardy and could soon be terminated. Per people briefed on the proceedings who were not authorized to speak publicly, the teams whose TV agreements are on the chopping block are the Cleveland Guardians and the World Series champion Texas Rangers.
If Diamond drops those two teams, the clubs would get their rights back and could be broadcast either by the league in 2024, as the Padres and Diamondbacks were for part of the 2023 season. Alternatively, the Guardians and Rangers could strike a deal with another broadcaster to carry games.
“Our intention is to broadcast almost all of (our) Major League Baseball teams next year,” a lawyer for Diamond said in court Wednesday. “There are a few, a very few, for which we do not have agreements in place. And that, frankly, at this point, are too expensive for us to broadcast without concessions. I am told that those discussions are taking place, there have been reach-outs to both of the teams involved.”
The Guardians received $55 million in 2023, per Cleveland.com. The average annual value of the Rangers’ 20-year deal, which began with the 2011 season, has been said to be $111 million.
“There’s no deal with MLB, there’s no deal with the Rangers, we don’t know what (Diamond’s) intention is with respect to the Rangers,” a lawyer for the Rangers said on Wednesday in court.
MLB declined comment after the hearing. The league has been pushing for certainty as to its 2024 broadcast agreements and revenues, and a hearing on a motion the league brought is expected no later than Dec. 8. As of now, nothing prevents Diamond from potentially dropping additional teams beyond the Guardians or Rangers before the end of the 2024 season.
Diamond Sports owns 19 regional sports networks across the country broadcasting NBA, NHL, and MLB games, and has been in bankruptcy court since March. Since then, the leagues and teams have been in a state of uncertainty about their broadcasts and the associated revenue. The parties gained some additional clarity in court Wednesday, when Judge Christoper Lopez approved a plan offered by Diamond Sports that would allow it to continue to broadcast NBA, NHL, and MLB games through September 2024 — the end of the baseball season — while trying to operate as profitably as possible, and then begin to wind down and try to pay back creditors, including by possibly liquidating or selling off assets.
The outlook can change from here, however. Two motions, including the one brought by MLB, “may blow up the entire cooperation agreement,” Lopez said, “but that’s the way the parties have set it up, and I think I’ve got to take every motion on its own.”
Overall, the NBA and NHL have a better understanding of their future with Diamond than MLB does.
Lopez on Wednesday approved a term sheet between the NBA and Diamond Sports that would allow Diamond’s RSNs to continue to air the local broadcasts for 15 NBA teams through the 2023-24 season. Local television and direct-to-consumer rights for those teams would then return to the franchises and the league.
Diamond also is in talks with the NHL on an agreement that is similar to the one it reached with the NBA. A lawyer representing Diamond told the judge he expected it to be finished by the beginning of next week.
(Top photo of Game 2 of the 2023 World Series in Arlington, Texas: Erick W. Rasco / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)