MLB hires local media executive in response to RSN struggles

MLB hires local media executive in response to RSN struggles

Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it has hired Billy Chambers to fill the new position of executive vice president of local media. The job creation is significant as the league faces a murky future for regional sports networks, which broadcast the vast majority of games in local markets.

RSNs have been crucial to the league’s business and one of the biggest sources of revenue for teams since the 1990s; they have helped boost team ratings and pay players’ salaries. But recently they have faced the headwinds of cord-cutting as consumers have dropped their cable subscriptions. About 70 million households pay for cable today, up from more than 100 million in 2012.

The problem has been felt most keenly by Sinclair Broadcast Company, which in 2019 paid more than $10 billion to buy about 20 Disney networks. Late last year, Sinclair took a second write-down on buying debt, citing losses of more than $1 billion in the third quarter of 2022. The company also said its linear TV subscribers fell 10 percent year over year, and its cash flow was half of what was forecast at the beginning of the year.

In December, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the RSN model as it exists today is “probably not sustainable in the long term because of the number of people opting out of the cable bundle.” Manfred said he was interested in “trying to create a new model that’s more sustainable and, more importantly from our perspective, gives us better reach in terms of fans being able to get games, whether they’re in-pack or out of the package.”

Chambers’ hiring is a step in that direction as the league considers how it will monetize and distribute local television rights. Another issue likely to be part of Chambers’ portfolio is local blackout restrictions, which have frustrated some fans who can’t watch the team playing closer to them because of television rights contracts.

Chambers previously served as CFO and COO of the RSNs that were acquired by Sinclair; also helped in the sales process. Prior to Sinclair, Chambers worked as an executive with Fox Sports for two decades.

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