Sinclair’s long-awaited direct-to-consumer streaming app, Bally Sports+ is gearing up for a soft launch, according to a new report from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.
The regional sports network streaming service will debut on June 23, and as previously reported, the app will soft launch in five markets serving the following MLB teams: Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, and Tampa Bay Rays.
After months of speculation, for the first time, Sinclair has given fans a price point for the app: $19.99 per month, or $189.99 a year, and the service is expected to launch nationwide later this year in Q3.
Ourand interviewed Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley and COO Rob Weisbord ahead of the app’s soft launch date and they stated the following:
“This is all about just testing, learning, iterating, and getting our full marketing plans in place,” Ripley said of the soft launch. “There isn’t necessarily a milestone that I can point you towards that says, this is what marks when we take the next step.”
Earlier this year, Sinclair’s projection for the best-case scenario for the app was 975,000 paying subscribers at the end of 2022, according to a filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commissions. In the filling, the broadcasting giant projected that the worst-case scenario would be 309,000 paying subscribers by the end of this year.
Pay-tv subscribers already have TV Everywhere credentials to stream games on Bally Sports RSNs, but with sports fans shifting to streaming, Ripley’s company felt the need to launch the service and switch to a “hybrid-model” to attract more fans, telling Ourand:
“When we first went down this road three years ago, we did extensive research on this segment and identified a huge amount of fandom outside of the pay TV bundle,” Ripley said. “Flash forward to launch, two, three years later that has only gotten bigger. It’s a very under-served, very large portion of the population that would want this product, but can’t get it.”
Future Features & Where to Find the App?
Over the past year, there have been reports of gamification being a feature within the app. Outside of the legal hurdles of gambling in a viewer’s market, teams, and leagues will have to approve gambling for subscribers to be able to use Bally’s Interactive sportsbook app to place wagers on games.
While speaking with Ourand, Ripley gave insight on the importance of interactivity and sports betting:
“The math for the whole sports industry gets really interesting when you have a scaled audience on a digital platform where you can deliver interactive experiences,” Ripley said. “That’s because this younger generation is really interested in interactive experiences. They’re far more interested in sports betting than their parents.”
While speaking with Broadcasting+Cable, Ripley explained that other interactive features such as buying tickets, merchandise, and fantasy, within the app will also have to be approved by leagues and teams:
“We want to entice the Xbox generation. That’s who we envision as being the heavy app user and they’re used to interactivity. If we build up the interactivity, they’ll stay with the games longer, even if it’s a blowout,” he said. There will be virtual prizes, real prizes and in some cases cash prizes. “We want them to stay with the games and give them a component that makes them lean forward,” he said.
Subscribers will be able to find the app on mobile devices when it makes its soft launch, and around the 2022 MLB All-Star Game, the app is expected to be available on Roku.
As the third quarter of the fiscal year approaches, Sinclair has secured digital rights for 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL teams within the past 7 months. The 28 teams between the two leagues are expected to be part of the full launch later this year, but there hasn’t been an announcement on if the company has secured the digital rights for the other 9 MLB teams which air across Bally Sports RSNs, as of yet.
The digital rights for the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels are in question, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been critical of the league’s relationship with the broadcast company.
Back in October, Manfred did not hold back when speaking about Sinclair:
“I think that the negativity surrounding the RSNs has been increased exponentially as a result of the situation with the Sinclair subsidiary Diamond. Part of their problem is cord-cutting. The other part of their problem is there’s excessive leverage on that business,” Manfred said. “If you think about what they paid for it, how much debt they have on it, I mean, you think it’s over 80%, it’s a huge number. And that leverage has produced headlines that are more negative. There are RSNs out there that aren’t thriving or growing, but they’re going to survive. Look, look, there are RSNs — YES and NESN — that have businesses that remain profitable, they’re affected by cord-cutting. But the fact of the matter is I think the negativity has been increased by the Diamond (Sinclair) situation.”
On June 1, NESN launched its own DTC app, NESN 360, which carries Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins games and costs $330 per year, or $30 per month, which is $10 more than Bally Sports+. NESN 360 is the first direct-to-consumer RSN app, but has struggled out the gate. Subscribers have given the app less than stellar reviews due to its price point combined with not being able to watch outside of the Boston area, and various technical difficulties.
Sinclair is using the soft launch to work out any kinks before the full launch later this year. The company wants to avoid issues that NESN has had launching their app and Weisbord wants the app to be on par with other major players in the world of streaming, telling Broadcasting+Cable the following:
“The first thing we’re focused on is the quality of the video” Weisbord said. “The games themselves are our tent poles so there’s a heightened level of scrutiny. We have to on par with the Netflixes and the Disney Pluses.”
With the app launching on Thursday, June 23, some fans will finally have a way to stream their local teams like never before as Sinclair hopes to hit a home run in an ever-changing industry.