Sinclair Rebrands Sports Networks With Bally Name

Fifteen months after completing its acquisition of the 21 Fox regional sports networks, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has signed a deal to rename them using the Bally casino brand, a sign of just how intertwined betting has become with sports.

The deal with Providence, Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corp. includes use of its brand in promotions on Sinclair’s 190 broadcast-TV stations, the Tennis Channel and its sports streaming service, called Stadium. In return, Sinclair will receive a naming-rights fee, shares in Bally’s and an agreement by the company to spend a percentage of its interactive advertising budget on Sinclair outlets, according to a statement released by the companies Wednesday.

Sinclair will receive warrants to purchase just under 15% of Bally’s shares, plus additional warrants and options that could give it another 15% based on certain performance targets.

The Bally brand would appear on local-news sports updates, as well as national broadcasts of sporting events -- from golf to pro football -- on the local stations, Chris Ripley, Sinclair’s chief executive officer, said in an interview.

“It’s a great brand that means a lot to a lot of people,” Ripley said.

The agreement is part of a larger initiative to create more revenue streams for the regional sports networks, which are highly dependent on fees paid by cable-TV distributors. Ripley said he wants more direct connections with consumers, whether through online betting, daily fantasy sports or social gaming. Eventually, revenue from gaming-related sources could exceed that of traditional advertising, he said.

“More people gaming translates into more people viewing,” Ripley said. “You create this virtuous cycle of higher engagement. That will lead to not only more advertising dollars but also more subscribers.”

Those subscriptions could include online ones made directly with Sinclair. On a conference call with investors Thursday, Ripley said he hopes to launch an app in the spring that will allow cable subscribers to watch games in local markets live and “shortly thereafter” -- an option that would let fans without cable subscriptions sign up directly so they can watch local games.

Sinclair’s advertising deal with Bally’s isn’t exclusive -- it can still sell ads and create partnerships with other betting operators. The branding relationship will be in place for 10 years and can be extended for five more. The New York Post reported that Bally’s is paying $85 million for the naming rights.

Technology Buy

In a separate transaction, Bally’s also announced a deal to acquire Bet.Works Corp., a sports-betting technology company, for $125 million.

Sinclair, based in the Baltimore suburb of Cockeysville, Maryland, paid $9.6 billion for the regional networks last year. They currently operate under such names as Fox Sports Arizona and Fox Sports Detroit and broadcast mostly professional baseball, basketball and hockey games that aren’t shown on national networks.

The channels were originally owned by 21st Century Fox Inc., but Walt Disney Co. was required to sell them by federal authorities as part of its acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets last year. Sinclair had until next year to find a new name for the networks under a license agreement with Fox Corp.

The naming-rights deal doesn’t include two other regional networks Sinclair has an interest in: Marquee, launched earlier this year in Chicago to broadcast Cubs games, and YES, the New York Yankees channel, which Sinclair invested in last year.

The sports, casino and media industries have seen a flurry of deal-making since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states outside of Nevada to offer sports wagering two years ago. Fox has launched a betting site with FanDuel parent Flutter Entertainment Plc. Disney’s ESPN has cut sponsorship deals with both DraftKings Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Inc., while ViacomCBS Inc. has a partnership with U.K. betting group William Hill Plc.

Rising Revenue

Sports-betting revenue rose 27% to $677 million in the U.S. during the first nine months of this year, even as sales at traditional casinos tumbled due to coronavirus closings. Online wagering of other types has risen even more dramatically, as mobile sports bettors often stick around to play other games. Some 25 states now allow sports betting, with more expected to come.

The business of operating regional sports networks has been a challenging one recently. Sports channels are often the most expensive in a cable-TV package due to the cost of broadcast rights. Consumers are abandoning pay TV in favor of less-expensive streaming options such as Netflix Inc. Some cable operators are dropping the regional channels.

Dish Network Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and Disney’s Hulu have dropped Sinclair’s sports channels after contract-renewal talks failed. Earlier this month, Sinclair wrote down the value of its purchase of the Fox networks by $4.3 billion.

The Bally brand dates back to a pinball-machine maker founded in 1932. Over the years, it’s been applied to everything from slot machines to fitness clubs. Twin River Worldwide Holdings acquired the name for use in casinos from Caesars Entertainment for $20 million and rebranded itself as Bally’s Corp. this month.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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