By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
Diamond Sports Group, the largest owner of regional sports networks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. The move came after it missed a $140 million interest payment last month.
Diamond owns 19 networks under the Bally Sports banner. Those networks have the rights to 42 professional teams — 14 baseball, 16 NBA and 12 NHL.
The company said in a release Tuesday night that it expects to continue to operate during the bankruptcy process and that coverage of games should not be affected.
Diamond Sports also said it is negotiating a restructuring agreement with debt holders that will eliminate most of its debt. Under an agreement with creditors, it would become a separate company from Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“DSG will continue broadcasting games and connecting fans across the country with the sports and teams they love,” Diamond Sports CEO David Preschlack said in a statement. “We look forward to working constructively with our team and league partners and all DSG stakeholders throughout this process and beyond.”
Diamond said in a financial filing last fall it had debt of $8.67 billion. The bankruptcy filing was made in the Southern District of Texas.
Sinclair Broadcast Group bought the regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Co. for nearly $10 billion in 2019. Disney was required by the Department of Justice to sell the networks for its acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets to be approved.
Diamond has nearly $1 billion in rights payments, mostly to baseball teams, due in the first quarter this year. The company is current on payments to hockey and basketball teams, but it might withhold payments from some baseball teams where it is trying to renegotiate a better deal.
Major League Baseball has set up a local media department in case it has to take over broadcasts for teams. Games would air locally via MLB Network or streamed on MLB.TV in case that happened.
“Diamond Sports Group’s bankruptcy declaration today is an unfortunate development that we have been expecting. Despite Diamond’s economic situation, there is every expectation that they will continue televising all games they are committed to during the bankruptcy process,” MLB said in a statement late Tuesday night. “Over the long term, we will reimagine our distribution model to address the changing media climate and ultimately reach an even larger number of fans.”
Diamond Sports isn’t the only company experiencing financial woes with its regional sports networks. Warner Bros. Discovery, which has an ownership stake in three of the AT&T SportsNet networks, has given the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates until March 31 to reclaim their broadcast rights. WBD Sports is ending its investment in the networks.
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