Is Bally Sports Detroit about to go belly up?

Isiah Thomas was honored at halftime by George Blaha (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Isiah Thomas was honored at halftime by George Blaha (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

There was a recent report that the parent company of Bally Sports Detroit, which televises most Detroit Pistons games, might have to file for bankruptcy.

Because the Pistons are rarely on national TV (once in the preseason and one regular season game), most fans rely on Bally Sports Detroit to view games.

As most Pistons fans have noticed, the name of the cable network showing Pistons games has changed. For many years, it was Fox Sports Detroit as it was owned by the Fox Corporation.

Why? OK, take a deep breath, as it now gets a bit complicated:

Most Fox assets, included a total of 21 regional sports networks, were sold to Disney in 2019. The ‘House of the Mouse’ was not very interested in running local sports and sold all the networks, for a total of $9 billion, to Sinclair Broadcasting. (Two them were re-sold again, so Sinclair now has 19).

They set up Diamond Sports to run the regional sports networks (commonly referred to as RSNs). Diamond then sold the naming rights to Bally, which is why it is now called Bally Sports Detroit.

Bally has no say in the operation, Diamond is the one making all the decisions.

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And one of the decisions it must make, is whether to file for bankruptcy.

In an era of cord-cutting, plus the pandemic upending everyday life, subscriptions are down. Diamond is not losing money, but with a massive pile of debt due to the sale, its overall financial situation is not good.

That is why they sold the name of its RSNs, and also started its own streaming service Bally Sports+. Basically, they need the money.

According to The Athletic (PAID SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED), on a recent earnings call with investors, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said the company has the cash flow to get through 2023 but the decrease in subscribers were more than expected, which has caused some distress.

There was talk the pro sports teams, in Detroit it would be the Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers, might go to a Direct-to-TV (DTV) approach. Basically, if you wanted to watch a Pistons game, the team would sell you a package directly, instead of getting it from your Bally Sports Detroit subscription.

However, talk about that has cooled recently. Leagues have realized how tough putting a DTV network together would be. Importantly, those big rights payments they get from the RSN stop. It is a lot easier for a team to just take a check than all the expense and time to build your own network and hope for the best.

Ripley said Diamond, as of now, is not for sale, killing talk they might sell it off to the major pro sports leagues.

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But they have hired outside firms to help with ‘restructuring’. That is never good news. No one ‘restructures’ to add employees and spend more on coverage.

What are the possible repercussions of Bally Sports Detroit’s financial problems for Detroit Pistons games

  • Less on-air talent: Pistons broadcasts feature George Blaha on play-by-play and Gregory Kelser as color commentator plus at least one sideline reporter, as well as various hosts and experts on halftime, pre- and post-game shows. They are not volunteers, they get paid and having less people to pay is an expense Diamond might look at.

Many NBC regional networks have dropped reporters, leaving only the play-by-play and commentator. They also have let on-air people go simply by not renewing their contracts. Eventually, It leaves a lot of openings.

Usually, the play-by-play announcer is safe, they are the face of the station, so do not fret too much about Blaha losing his job.

However, do not be surprised if on-air talent are asked to take pay cuts.

  • Less non-game programming: Those specials, ‘inside’ looks or documentaries or really anything not directly involving the game broadcasts, could be on the chopping block. That kind of programming involves producers, editors, camera people and other additional personnel. That would probably be the first thing to go, if Bally Sports Detroit does make noticeable cuts.
  • Less money for Pistons: The biggest expense is, obviously, the rights fees to the Pistons to televise the games. Diamond could ask for a lowering of payments.

What would be the Pistons’ response? Not good, most likely. But, like on the national level, the alternatives are much worse. Where could they go?

Bally Sports Detroit is the only game in town. Unless they want to create their own network, which would involve a lot of expense and time with no guarantee of profit, the Pistons might have to swallow a smaller payment.

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There is no immediate danger of Pistons games being yanked off the air. And even if Diamond did file for bankruptcy, they could still continue to keep the RSNs up and running. But it is certainly a situation to follow, as it could affect the way Pistons games are shown in the future.