Shortly after being dashed, hope for a Marquee Sports Network carriage deal with YouTube TV was renewed last week when the streaming service reached a temporary extension on negotiations with the Sinclair Broadcast Group. But as Eric Fisher of Sports Business reported Thursday, YouTube TV has once again dropped at least some Sinclair properties from its platform.
While this doesn’t appear to be an across-the-board blackout, the temporary arrangement “has not held in key US media markets such as New York and Los Angeles.” That means dropping YES Network, perhaps the most popular and widespread of all the regional sports networks in Sinclair’s stable. Though the Yankees retained majority ownership in their network, Sinclair still holds minority interest. So does Amazon, which could factor in Google-owned YouTube’s decision-making process.
Update: the service drops, as of now, appears to be affecting key US media markets such as NY/LA. But some other smaller markets still show their Fox regionals as available through YouTube TV
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBG) March 5, 2020
As you might imagine, YES was none too pleased with the decision that resulted in a great number of subscribers in its home market and beyond suddenly losing access. A statement released very early Thursday morning ripped its former carrier partner — and seemingly one of its minority owners — for pulling the plug.
“YouTube TV, for its own selfish reasons and with total disregard for its YES customers, has refused to pay the market rate and accept market terms and conditions that other YES distributors have agreed to,” read the statement. “In fact, YouTube TV sought a rate that was well below what other YES distributors are paying….Sinclair, for its own reasons, elected to make a deal for some but not all of its programming services which excluded large-market RSNS featuring iconic franchises and star players.”
This is similar to what Sinclair said about broader negotiations with YouTube TV, at least the part about the streaming service demanding a deal that was below what was considered. Lots of finger pointing going on here.
“We offered YouTube TV the best terms under which their competitors carry our regional sports networks,” Sinclair spokesman Ronn Torossian told Bloomberg Business in an email. “Unfortunately, they alone decided to drop these channels citing ‘rising costs’ despite our offer to actually lower the fees they pay us.”
No matter how you connect these dots, the resultant picture isn’t very good for the Cubs and Marquee. While Sinclair owns a larger stake in Marquee than it does YES, this latest development confirms that there appear to be different levels of negotiation going on here. Which is to say that Sinclair may be handling some of the higher-profile properties like YES and Marquee separately from their group of 21 FOX RSNs.
That wasn’t how the situation was portrayed in the early going, as the whole idea behind partnering with Sinclair was to leverage the clout of having so many local, regional, and national properties. Maybe that’s still the case, the contentious talks with YouTube and Comcast indicate that Marquee may carrying its own freight in some regard.
On one hand, that may actually be good news for Cubs fans who’ve still got their fingers crossed for a deal with YouTube TV. Negotiating their own deal means not being frozen out by other failed negotiations. On the other, we’ve seen absolutely nothing to indicate that the streaming service is bullish on sports, something Cubs business operations president Crane Kenney confirmed recently. With Sinclair’s stock price tumbling like a Kyle Hendricks changeup, it might be time to eat a little humble pie and get something done.
As of now, something like 2 million households in the Cubs’ broadcast territory are without access to Marquee. The number might be even higher, I don’t actually know for certain. That’s bad enough during spring training, but it’ll look awful once the real games start. More on this as it develops.