Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?

It might seem a little callous to speculate on implications for entertainment industries while thousands of people die every day from the COVID-19 pandemic and millions lose their jobs, but as Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to restructure a 2020 season, the NFL opts to draft from Roger Goodell’s basement, and the NBA throws together a H-O-R-S-E tournament, I’d argue that the issues are out there and worth exploring. A disclosure: I work in broadcasting, and so much of the following article’s main points certainly fall under my personal livelihood just as much as my interests as a sports fan. There’s absolutely a conflict of interest here, but I have zero ability to change anything about the present status quo within the industry, so this is merely an opinion of someone within the trade. I’ll also be using Colorado as a bit of a microcosm for the rest of the sports broadcasting industry, as it’s my understanding the business model is generally similar to most other areas.

Since MLB Spring Training was halted, not a day has gone by where I didn’t mourn the lack of baseball or think about my beloved New York Yankees. After last season, I’ve spent the off-time oscillating between chomping at the bit for the fellas to get back on the field and worrying about injuries and contracts, like any fan. I count myself lucky that this virus has yet to touch anyone close to me and I’m an “essential worker” that’s thankfully avoided layoffs, so it feels okay to lament about how much easier a quarantine would be if there was a realistic and safe way to distract a terrified, shut-in America with a couple of its favorite pastimes. A big part of feeling like things have “gotten back to normal” will be having sports and their corresponding large gatherings back again.

I splurged on seeing the Nuggets this year and was excited to get back to Coors Field and see the Rockies more regularly than my three or four games a season. The Avalanche were on a dominant tear that undoubtedly would’ve led to a playoff run, and like every year, I had resolved that the 2019-2020 season would finally be the year I got into hockey and follow the NBA closer than highlights and playoff games. Unfortunately, a contract dispute between Colorado’s regional sports network, Altitude Sports, and every major cable or satellite provider in the state meant games from the Rockies, Avalanche, or the Nuggets would have extremely little opportunity to be televised outside of national network showcases. This is still ongoing and has led to both a potentially landmark antitrust case and local bars pirating streams to keep up traditional revenue.

Before I go on to make the case that professional sports should be broadcast on local over-the-air signals, it bears mentioning that I side with Altitude in the contract dispute with the telecommunications infrastructure providers. Regional sports networks (RSNs from here on out), have their own employees and contractors for production and reporting and are giving cable and satellite providers one of the last products cord cutters can’t legally and reliably find an alternative for (yet). To squeeze the networks for a larger share of revenue when it’s only a matter of time before RSNs start fielding streaming deals independent of cable and satellite providers a la the YES Network’s presently-in-limbo arrangements with Amazon Prime seems extremely irresponsible and short-sighted.

Altitude was already likely taking a huge financial hit with its contract dispute before the pandemic hit. It’s not available over-the-air, with YouTube TV or other streaming platforms, and costs extra on top of the base cable package. This is the case with most¬†RSNs. Other than the NFL, most professional sports are carried exclusively on a “premium” channel. Starving for content with sports cancelled, how long could an RSN remain solvent, and could they float for months or years until society is able to safely turn a corner on COVID-19? Broadcast television production and sports journalism are both specialized trades, and there’s surely been employee furloughs and layoffs, and non-renewals for workers on contract already. Those workers and personalities, vital to the quality of the network’s product as well as at the very least partially responsible to viewer retention, might not be back.

A larger question regarding the potential of floundering RSN might be should we even have them?¬† Continue reading →

Aaron Boone Suspended for Today’s Game

Friday night, Aaron Boone was ejected as the Yankees were being no-hit by the Tigers for arguing balls and strikes. Nic Lentz, a substitute homeplate umpire, had established a low strike zone early in the game but it was evidently not very consistent between Detroit and New York hitters. Jawing from the dugout, Boone was thrown out with very little hesitation by Lentz, and enraged, Boone stormed out from the dugout where he gave Lentz a quick strike zone lesson from behind the plate and got in his face. Apparently, hat bill contact is an offense worth suspending for in the MLB. If you haven’t seen the ejection and subsequent exchange, it’s something to behold from a manager that has been criticized by Yankee faithful as being a little too mild-mannered and working too close to a sabermetrics book in his debut season as the New York skipper.

Yankees like a pugilist at the helm (see: Martin, Billy; Girardi, Joe) and you can’t argue with results. In what felt like blatant retaliation, the Yanks came up in the next inning to hit three homeruns after being no-hit for 5 innings, taking the lead 4-3. I had been in the shower at the time, but I had the game turned up and heard each of Michael Kay’s calls. My reaction could only be described as “Ray Liotta in the shower after the airport heist in Goodfellas” while I slammed my hand on the tile and yelled “WIN IT FOR BOONIE!” enough times to probably disturb my neighbors. New York went on to win the game 7-5 in a goddamn late-season nailbiter for the ages.

Today’s game against the Tigers hopefully keeps the momentum going after the reunification of a sorely missed Gary Sanchez and debut of Aaron McClutchen in a 2-1 victory yesterday. I took the Yanks at a -1.5 spread on -135 juice for 1.5 Units this afternoon, tail or fade at your own risk. I think Lance Lynn is due a good outing today on the mound, the lineup is tightening back up as something a little more threatening, and although Stanton is having a much-needed day off, the outfield has enough depth both defensively and at bat to give him the rest. You can find me in the reddit Game Day Thread, where I would please urge the board to stop the Chicken Little posting on every piece of the other team’s offense or Yankee fielding miscue. It’s been a rough but ultimately successful season and I think any fan should be optimistic about the playoffs, especially if this team can get and stay healthy. I miss Aaron Judge and Sir Didi so much. Nic Lentz is a baby and Reagan should’ve busted up the Umpire’s Union.