This may not be a story on the casual fan’s radar, but where the 22 Fox Sports RSNs wind up in their sale from Disney is of massive significance in the sports television industry. Today, CNBC is reporting that Amazon is amongst the bidders. Other bidders include Sinclair Broadcast Group, TEGNA, and private equity firms Apollo Global Management, KKR, and Blackstone, according to CNBC. Amazon especially would signal a dramatic shift in the landscape.
Fox has not yet submitted a bid to buy these RSNs back, but it would not be astonishing if they are ultimately involved in the process, given that they’re acutely aware of how valuable these properties are and that they would seem to fit into New Fox’s strategy of focusing on live sports and news.
Combined, the Fox Sports RSNs have about half of the local MLB, NBA, and NHL rights. They are wildly profitable. (One example, which also applies to the baseball is dying crowd: Forbes’ Maury Brown wrote a piece in October noting that “the average MLB team generates more viewing on its RSN than the top ten primetime shows combined in the same market.”)
These RSNs include the YES Network; a clause in the Yankees’ contract with Fox enables them to bid on buying Fox’s 80% stake of the network back in the event it was sold. That throws a whole other layer of intrigue into the process, because YES is probably the jewel property of all the RSNs. (CNBC says Amazon and Blackstone are bidding with the Yankees for YES.)
Amongst the bidders, Amazon is the name that throws a jolt into legacy stakeholders in sports media. Up until now, we have heard time and again about the threat of new Internet players joining the fray for premium live sports rights. They have nibbled around the edges — Amazon has streaming rights for Thursday Night Football, for example — but thus far the new-money firms like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo have not really dove into exclusive rights for A-List properties. (DAZN did make a big splash in signing Canelo Alvarez to a deal worth over $300 million; this potential purchase by Amazon would eclipse that by orders of magnitude.)
If Amazon gets these RSNs, and frankly even if they don’t, a serious bid signals that they are going to be big players in the next round of live rights. Sports owners and commissioners must be giddy at the development.