Diamond Sports Group, a collection of 19 regional sports networks (RSNs) doing business as Bally Sports, is planning to file for bankruptcy next week, according to multiple people familiar with the plan. The group currently controls the local broadcast rights to more than 40 teams in the NBA, NHL and MLB, and its bankruptcy would be a significant blow to the cable network model that has lucratively buoyed U.S. sports for the past 50 years.
Diamond is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group (Nasdaq: SBGI), which bought the RSNs in a debt-heavy $9.6 billion deal back in 2019. Since then, it has struggled to right the business as consumers rush to abandon cable and Diamond struggles to define its digital future.
The group has $140 million in interest payments due next week. Instead of meeting them, it is planning to file Chapter 11 next week, said the people, who were granted anonymity because the details are private.
Diamond CEO David Preschlack didn’t immediately reply to a message for comment. Sinclair declined to comment.
The bankruptcy could have a dramatic impact for some of the most popular (and most valuable) sports teams in the U.S., particularly in the NBA, NHL and MLB, where local TV rights have for decades been a significant and reliable revenue stream. The NFL, by contrast, does all of its live rights at the national level, and MLS’ new $2.5 billion deal with Apple is a global platform.
For the affected teams, including the Miami Heat, St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Lightning, the bankruptcy will trigger a number of questions. For instance, what happens with payment owed to the teams during the Chapter 11 process? More concerning, what do local sports media rights look like in the aftermath, and will leagues like the NBA or MLB get involved more directly?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gave at least part of an answer earlier this week. Following an owners meeting in Florida, Manfred told the Associated Press that baseball would be prepared to make games available via both digital and traditional cable avenues should Diamond be unable to.
The RSN model is one of the many corners of the media world being gradually upended by the decline of cable subscribers—a "melting glacier" in the parlance of many who work in sports media. There are 62.2 million bundled TV subscribers in the U.S., according to data from MoffettNathanson, a 26% drop from 2019 when Sinclair bought the RSNs, and a 38% drop from 2014.
To stem those trends, many large media companies are shifting their business to include digital options, services like ESPN+ or Paramount+, which typically lose money at the outset in the hopes of gradually assuming the economic heft of their linear counterparts. Last year Diamond unveiled its first major digital offering, Bally Sports+, which allowed fans to stream local games for $19.99 per month or $189.99 per year.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is used to give troubled businesses time to restructure their financial obligations under court supervision and in coordination with creditors. The intention of Chapter 11 is to reemerge as a viable business with a manageable financial plan.
While Diamond raised $635 million about a year ago in a loan to provide liquidity for operations through this year, its financial outlook has worsened as the business has burned through its cash with big obligations ahead. Diamond has $1.8 billion in rights fees due this year to the NBA, NHL and MLB, as well as over $600 million in interest payments on its debt in 2023, according to S&P Global Ratings.
The business is also facing the maturity of $3.1 billion of corporate debentures in 2026, and another $1.7 billion in 2027. Since all but $14 million of those debentures are unsecured, bankruptcy could allow the RSNs to eliminate some debt. The business overall has $8.6 billion in debt. The bond markets have been signaling an expectation of Diamonds Sports bankruptcy, with unsecured debt trading at the fire-sale price of 10 cents on the dollar for the past few months.
Those prices reflect the broader trouble brewing on the horizon for the past few years, concerns that have escalated in recent months. In December, days after taking a $1 billion impairment on the RSNs, Diamond voted to block Sinclair from management of the group. Company executives said at that time that they had enough money to operate the business through at least 2023, but cautioned that that could change depending on broader economic forces.
Despite the distancing between Diamond and its parent, Sinclair still owns 90% of the group’s equity. Chapter 11 bankruptcy typically wipes out equity holders, who sit at the bottom of the creditor hierarchy. However, the filing likely will have few ramifications for Sinclair’s stock price, given investors appear to have largely written off Diamond’s value to Sinclair after the split, according to Morningstar.
Last month Bloomberg reported that Diamond’s lawyers were preparing a debt restructuring in bankruptcy court. The plan favored by the company and its creditors at the time, Bloomberg said, would turn lenders into owners in a prearranged Chapter 11 process. That could explain why Diamond might miss its upcoming interest payment—lenders could prefer the company not spend more cash before they become owners.
The Diamond bankruptcy could also have downstream effects for the many other RSNs not under the Sinclair umbrella, including ones controlled by teams (such as the YES Network or NBC Sports Washington), and by other media companies (such as Discovery’s three AT&T SportsNet entities).
(This story was updated in the fourth paragraph to reflect Sinclair's response on a request for comment.)