Bally Sports+ streaming service soft-launched by Sinclair, $20/month
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s long awaited direct-to-consumer regional sports streaming service will debut on June 23.
Bally Sports+ will initially be available in five markets where Bally Sports networks carry Major League Baseball’s Kansas CIty Royals, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays.
The app will cost $19.99 per month, or $189.99 a year and allow local fans to watch games without subscribing to a pay TV cable, satellite or streaming service. The Bally Sports app will enable pay TV subscribers to authenticate and watch games, as well as allow non-pay TV subscribers to join the service.
Given the declining subscriber numbers of regional sports networks, Bally Sports+ will be an important test case for media companies, leagues and teams as they try to figure out how to preserve local sports rights and appeal to the changing markets.
On June 1, NESN launched a competing streaming service, NESN 360, in the Boston area carrying Boston Red Sox games that cost $29.99 per month or $329.99 per year.
At some point in the fiscal year’s third quarter, Sinclair plans to roll out the service nationwide.
“This is all about testing, learning, iterating, and getting our full marketing plan in place,” CEO Chris Ripley said of the soft launch to sportsbusinessjournal. “There isn’t necessarily a milestone that I can point you towards that says, this is what marks when we take the next step.”
“We’re taking a three-month ramp from soft to full launch. But we thought it was a smart idea to get some reps under our belt before we go wider.”
Ripley identified a desire for a streaming service that would attract sports fans who do not subscribe to traditional pay-TV services.
“When we first went down this road three years ago, we did extensive research on this segment and identified a huge amount of fandom outside of the pay TV bundle,” Ripley said. “Flash forward to launch, two, three years later that has only gotten bigger. It’s a very under-served, very large portion of the population that would want this product, but can’t get it.”
“The real promise of direct to consumer is getting people off of linear analog experiences and onto digital experiences where you know who they are, you have their payment information, and you know their preferences, and you can deliver them interactive experiences.”
The interesting phrase being, interactive experiences. The roadmap for Sinclair is sketched out, gaming and sports betting will be a big focus of its Bally Sports+ streaming service.
“The math for the whole sports industry gets really interesting when you have a scaled audience on a digital platform where you can deliver interactive experiences.” Ripley continues. “That’s because this younger generation is really interested in interactive experiences. They’re far more interested in sports betting than their parents.”
The app will not (currently) allow sports betting, but subscribers can easily access BallyBet Sportsbook wherever gambling is legal. BallyBet is currently legally available in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana and Virginia.
Unique content is king
Sports is just the first area where Sinclair is considering going direct-to-consumers. “You have to have unique content,” SInclair’s COO Rob Weisbord explained in an interview for Broadcasting+Cable. “And so today, you cannot go with hard news because it’s kind of ubiquitous. But we’re always exploring. We believe the subscription business long term is a healthy business for us to be in, and our goal is to be in the e-commerce business.”
The company took on $600 million of debt to fund its plans for the direct-to-consumer service. In January, laid out its projections in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which stated that the best-case scenario for Bally Sports+ would see growth from 6.7 million subscribers in 2022 to 9.6 million in 2027.