Finance News

Sports broadcasting so disrupted NHL isn’t sure where games will air

Diamond Sports Group, the bankrupt owner of local sports channels, is racing to formulate a Chapter 11 exit plan before professional basketball and hockey resumes so it can reassure the leagues, teams and fans that it’s ready to broadcast upcoming games.

Diamond intends to broadcast the upcoming slate of National Basketball Association and National Hockey League games. But it needs to reach a resolution on its path through bankruptcy quickly to show the leagues that it’s prepared to do so, Diamond lawyer Brian Hermann said during a Friday court hearing.

“I don’t think anybody has to remind us of the clock,” Hermann said. “The management team and board are very well aware of it and it’s what is animating their every action, every day.”

The broadcaster, which owns the Bally Sports brand of television channels, brokered a deal with senior lenders and creditors before the hearing that extends the company’s exclusive right to submit a bankruptcy exit plan to Sept. 30.

The NHL has been having constructive discussions with Diamond on what its business relationship with the broadcaster will be going forward, said Shana Elberg, a lawyer for the league. There’s a risk that an agreement may not come together and it’s critical the NHL has certainty with Diamond before the start of the 2023-2024 season, she said.

The league’s pre-season starts on Sept. 23 and regular season starts on Oct. 10.

“Time is of the essence to the NHL and its clubs,” Elberg said.

A representative for the NBA didn’t speak during Friday’s court hearing. The league’s regular season begins Oct. 24.

Walt Disney Co.Apple Inc. and YouTube have already expressed interest in streaming NBA games, potentially taking over local rights held by Diamond. The company filed Chapter 11 in March with a plan to cut $8 billion in debt and has said it’s in a challenging position because the sports broadcasting industry is changing rapidly.

“I don’t think anybody can predict what it will necessarily look like on the other side,” Hermann said Friday.

Diamond ended telecast deals earlier in its bankruptcy to broadcast the games of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks during the regular season, but the company said it doesn’t intend to drop other baseball teams.

Advisers have been working on potential structures that would essentially separate Diamond from its parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., and allow the Bally Sports owner to operate independently upon leaving bankruptcy, Hermann said. It’s likely that Sinclair’s equity in Diamond will be wiped out, he said, which is common in Chapter 11.

Diamond filed a lawsuit against Sinclair last month, alleging its parent company wrongly diverted assets from the troubled sports broadcaster. Sinclair has said the lawsuit is without merit.

The case is Diamond Sports Group LLC, 23-90116, US Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Texas.

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