May 25, 2024

MLB, NHL, NBA all slam Bally RSN operator’s bankruptcy plan in court

Speaking in succession, lawyers for MLB, the NBA and NHL on Wednesday delivered the most pointed criticism Diamond Sports Group has taken since the bankrupt broadcaster introduced a plan to avoid liquidation in January. Yet, despite their loud misgivings, none of the leagues have filed a formal objection to the court, and it’s unknown if any will do so.

Comcast Xfinity customers haven’t been able to watch Diamond’s Bally regional sports networks since last month as Diamond and Comcast haggle over dollars. A dozen MLB teams, more than one-third of the league, are carried on those channels, and Diamond carries 38 teams in total across the three leagues.

“We are coming into the middle of yet another season where Diamond is an undependable partner,” said a lawyer for MLB, James Bromley. “This is not a deal that Major League Baseball and its clubs have signed up for. … It’s been two full weeks since carriage has been dropped by Comcast, and there is not a word of when it might get picked up, and on what terms.”

While baseball’s season is ongoing, the NBA and NHL are concerned about carriage when their seasons start anew in the fall. But Diamond’s arrangement with Comcast, its third largest distributor, also has long-term implications for Diamond’s ability to operate beyond 2024 — and whether the court will rubber-stamp its plan to do so. A confirmation hearing is set for June 18.

“We have more questions and answers,” said Vincent Indelicato, a lawyer for the NBA, in court Wednesday. “At a minimum, we need to understand the economic reality for Diamond of being dropped by Comcast. We need to understand the implications of any Comcast deal that Diamond might possibly do.”

Diamond carries 15 NBA teams. (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Said Shana Elberg, representing the NHL: “The day-to-day approach of whether or not a professional team’s games will be broadcast doesn’t work for us, and can’t continue.”

Among Diamond’s three partner leagues, MLB has consistently been the most critical. It was the only of the three to submit a written filing to the court on Tuesday, where it laid out many of the arguments that were elaborated on a day later. But once in front of the judge, the three leagues essentially linked arms.



Comcast-Diamond dispute ‘profoundly harmful,’ MLB argues

The Houston federal judge overseeing Diamond’s bankruptcy case, Chris Lopez, acknowledged the leagues’ complaints, but didn’t express any consternation himself.

“I get where we are,” Lopez said. “And I know the debtors understand where they are as well. We’ve got some work to do. We should all be hopefully a little smarter, (with) a little bit more information in the early June time period when we have our hearing.

“There’s been a lot of good work that’s done and I don’t want to lose sight of it. … There still are some serious questions that need to be answered.”

Diamond argued to Lopez that it was making progress overall, having reached deals with its top two distributors, Charter and DirecTV, as well as its fourth largest, Cox.

Diamond also said it is nearing a new naming rights deal with an unspecified sponsor. As part of the restructuring plan, the Bally branding is to disappear after this baseball season.

“I want your honor to know that the deal we offered Comcast, without getting into the specifics, is a similar deal that we got with Charter and with DirecTV, both of whom are larger than Comcast,” said Diamond lawyer Brian Hermann. “This is not the first time that a content provider and distributor have reached an impasse. … Those things happen from time to time, and they have often been resolved and we remain optimistic that we can resolve this as well.”

Bromley noted a deal isn’t guaranteed to follow, however.

“As a matter of public record, Comcast dropped other RSNs in the past and simply walked away from them,” the MLB counsel said.

While the June 18 confirmation hearing is so far unchanged, Diamond on Wednesday asked for and was granted an extension on an intermediate deadline, for objections to be filed. That date moved from May 22 to June 5.

MLB suggested that July might make more sense for the confirmation hearing.

“How in the world are we going to be able to have a hearing — which I think is going to be contested — and discovery … when we are just over 30 days (out) and we have simply no information?” Bromley asked. “Everything right now is up in the air.”

Comcast reported 13.6 million video subscribers in the first quarter this year. Bromley said that in some baseball markets, as many as 50 percent of fans are Comcast subscribers.

Diamond earlier this year appeared to be on a path to liquidation at the end of 2024. Amazon then stepped in as an investor in a plan that Diamond argues can keep the business viable beyond 2024.

The 12 MLB teams carried by Diamond are the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.

In its 13-page filing Tuesday, MLB listed “memorable, exciting and historic performances and games” that Comcast subscribers missed out on this month — one for each team carried by Comcast.

Lopez on Wednesday made a reference to one of those items.

Wrote MLB regarding the Reds: “Elly De La Cruz (Reds) leading MLB in stolen bases and stealing two bases each game for three-straight games.”

“I read everything, including the Elly De La Cruz reference in there, Mr. Bromley,” Lopez said. “I get it all, I saw it all there, and let’s just continue down the path.”

(Top photo: Chris Coduto / Getty Images)