With RSNs struggling, MLB hires executive to oversee local media

Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it hired Billy Chambers to fill the newly created position of executive vice president of local media. The creation of the job is meaningful as the league confronts a murky future for regional sports networks, which broadcast the vast majority of games in local markets.

RSNs have been crucial to league business and one of the most important revenue streams for teams since the 1990s; they have helped drive up team valuations and pay for player salaries. But they have faced the head winds of cord-cutting more recently as consumers have dropped their cable subscriptions. Around 70 million households pay for cable today versus more than 100 million in 2012.

The trouble has been felt most acutely by Sinclair Broadcast Company, which in 2019 paid more than $10 billion to buy around 20 networks from Disney. Late last year, Sinclair wrote down the debt from the purchase for a second time, citing losses of more than $1 billion in the third quarter of 2022. The company also said that its linear TV subscribers were down 10 percent year over year, and its cash flow was half of what it was projected to be at the beginning of the year.

In December, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the RSN model as it exists today is “probably not sustainable over the long haul as a result of the number of people that are opting out of the cable bundle.” Manfred said he was interested in “trying to come up with a new model that is more sustainable and, most important from our perspective, gives us better reach in terms of fans being able to get games, whether they’re in the bundle or out of the bundle.”

Hiring Chambers is a step in that direction, as the league plots how it will monetize and distribute local TV rights. Another issue that will likely be part of Chambers’s portfolio is local blackout restrictions, which have frustrated some fans who cannot watch the team that plays nearest to them because of TV rights contracts.

Chambers previously served as chief financial officer and chief operations officer of the RSNs that were acquired by Sinclair; he assisted in the sales process, too. Before Sinclair, Chambers worked as an executive with Fox Sports for two decades.

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