It never fails: you look at the schedule on a UNC football or basketball game day and see the little “RSN” designation by it. You roll your eyes because, for whatever reason, you don’t have access to the individualized regional sports network that the ACC has decided this game would go on, and you scramble to figure out how you can watch.
Those days appear to be over.
First reported by Next TV and then also reported by Awful Announcing, the package of games that used to go to the RSN’s have been dropped by Diamond Sports, which is the company that owns Bally Sports. It’s part of the ongoing financial struggles from the company to try and cut costs due to arguably the worst purchase at the worst time—their acquisition of the former Fox Sports Net stations that ESPN had to sell a few years ago.
To understand why you had to watch UNC on one of the stations probably would take way too long to both explain and to read, but there is a brief explanation. Essentially, when the ACC gave their rights to ESPN a few years ago, they still carved out a small package of games—football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball—for their syndication partner Raycom. While Raycom may not have appeared on your TV screen once the ACC Network was born, they were still alive and kicking. That small package of games was paid for by Raycom, who in turn sold it to the RSN’s to show.
It was a good deal for everyone but the ACC as it was yet another way that revenue was cut off from the league. The conference didn’t make more based on however much Raycom sold that package for, but the RSN’s got some valuable game action without having to pay the league directly, and Raycom still got to make some money even after the league moved on to ESPN mostly full time. The problem, of course, has been with how people have been moving away from the regular cable bundle and cutting the cord all together, or moving to a streaming provider that, in order to keep their prices lower, refused to carry these RSN’s. That’s how a lot of folks ended up missing the occasional Carolina game when it was deeded over to these channels.
As mentioned, the company that owns Bally has hit some hard times on the financial side, to the point where they have declared bankruptcy and are looking to save money wherever they can. You have have heard they are fighting with MLB to the point where they have just dropped one team, the Padres, and might drop more. It turns out that the contract to show ACC games was one that they felt they could afford to lose. It actually makes sense if you think about it, as they had to have each RSN that was in the ACC footprint pay for the right, and that would add up quickly.
So what does the bottom line mean for you, the viewer? It ultimately is going to be good news as Raycom has already bought these games and needs an outlet to show them. The question is who? Does ESPN step up to add to its ESPN+ inventory and unite the ACC under one roof? Does Raycom look to sell some of these games piecemeal to where maybe other partners would be willing to pay? Maybe a game or two that would be deemed a Raycom-produced game can end up on CBS or Fox as a free-agent buy? Or could they look at another streamer who is starved for inventory.
Either way, the days of scrambling to figure out which RSN your area serves and whether or not you get that particular channel on your service appear to be done. You’d think it could mean nothing but good news for fans everywhere based on how tough it had become. With football season kicking off in about two months, Raycom will need to have an answer soon.