Here's what the latest Bally Sports news means for Lightning fans – Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — Lightning games will continue to be broadcast on Bally Sports Sun for the remainder of the season, but where fans will be able to watch the team on local television beyond 2023-24 is very much uncertain.
Diamond Sports Group, Bally Sports’ parent company, has been going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since March. This week, Diamond reached an agreement with the NHL that will allow Bally to continue broadcasting games through the end of the season for the Lightning and 10 other teams currently on the regional sports network before the rights return to the league.
So, what does it all mean? We’ll try to break it down.
There’s been very little certainty regarding Bally’s Sports’ short-term future as Diamond wrangles with its debtors . Ultimately, this week’s news provides something the RSN, the league, its teams and fans have been waiting and hoping for — the certainty that games will continue to be broadcast through the end of this season. Bally has the broadcasts for 71 of the Lightning’s 82 regular-season games. The other 11 are network exclusives.
As crazy as it might sound, there were no guarantees that would happen.
Now, Lightning fans won’t have to worry that they’ll abruptly be left in the dark in the middle of the season. The team knows it will receive rights fee payments, though under the agreement Diamond will pay a discounted fee to some of the teams under contract — the Lightning are believed to be one — before the rights return to the league. The other teams on Bally are the Ducks, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Panthers, Kings, Wild, Predators, and Blues.
The Lightning renewed their rights deal with Bally early this year, just weeks before Diamond filed for Chapter 11. The length and terms were not disclosed, but the Panthers in 2022 re-signed with Bally for a multiyear deal that paid the team between $14 million-16 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal.
With the rights returning to the league after this season, the Lightning will have the ability to negotiate their next rightsholder deal for 2024-25 and beyond.
The partnership between the Lightning and Bally Sports Sun dates back to the start of the franchise. Sunshine Network showed the team’s first games in 1992, bringing televised hockey to a regional audience while providing the fledgling RSN with valuable on-air programming.
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Over the years, it went through various ownership and name changes — from Sun Sports to Fox Sports Sun — but remained the TV home of the Lightning. The network’s ownership has been in trouble since Sinclair Broadcasting purchased the 21 Fox Sports RSNs from Disney for nearly $10 billion in 2019. Disney acquired them in its takeover of 21st Century Fox but was forced to sell them by antitrust regulators due to Disney’s ownership of ESPN. The networks were rebranded as Bally Sports the following year.
Just three years later, Bally has become a source of frustration for area sports fans. Carriage fee disputes that took the network off cable providers and streaming services forced viewers to scramble to watch games, and the direct-to-consumer Bally Sports app has been marred with streaming issues this season that have left fans in the dark on several game nights and with little faith in the network.
According to court filings from March, Diamond is $8.67 billion in debt. Its attempts to get out from under it while producing a product worthy of the teams it broadcasts has been a challenge, to say the least.
Where Lightning games will be broadcast beyond this season is unknown, but possibilities continue to arise and the situation remains fluid.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this week he hoped Bally would be able to resolve its financial issues and remain a long-standing partner of the league. He reiterated that the NHL’s main concern is ensuring fans continue to have access to games. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Bettman said the league is ready to take the lead to help deliver local broadcasts.
“We’re preparing alternatives for clubs,” Bettman said. “We’re going to make sure we’re in a position where games are available and we’re going to seek to evolve with the times, because the model has obviously been under some stress. We have contingency plans. It’s more in the short-term of making sure we can deliver games. That’s something from the first time I was worried that we had prepared for. … The longer-term business strategy is something that’s going to have to evolve.”
The NHL has had the benefit of seeing how Bally’s issues have played out with other sports leagues. Diamond holds the regional rights to more than 40 teams across the NHL, Major League Baseball (including the Rays) and NBA. In November, Diamond and the NBA reached a deal that allows Bally broadcasts to continue through the end of the season and rights fees to be paid — some at a discount — before rights return to the league. This week, Sports Business Journal reported, Diamond agreed to make payments to nine of its 12 teams (including the Rays) for the 2024 season. It promised to make offers to the other three (Guardians, Rangers and Twins). If they decline the offers, their rights would return to MLB.
When Diamond defaulted on payment to the Padres in May, breaching its contract with the team, MLB stepped in to produce and distribute games locally through its apps and websites and on the MLB.TV out-of-market service by lifting local restrictions. From Bettman’s comments, the NHL seems prepared to do the same, potentially framing local coverage into the ESPN+ service that provides out-of-market games. But this week’s agreement gives the league time before that might have to happen.
It is uncertain what will become of Bally Sports, but this week’s Wall Street Journal report that Amazon is in talks to invest in Diamond on a multiyear streaming partnership could potentially bail out and resuscitate the networks while making Amazon’s Prime Video subscriber platform the streaming home for all of the teams. The plan has received support from a select group of Diamond’s creditors, according to the Journal, but would still need bankruptcy court approval and could fall through.
No matter where Lightning games are shown next year, fans shouldn’t expect the product to change much, if at all. Even though the team’s broadcast crew, which consists of play-by-play man Dave Randorf, color analyst Brian Engblom and rinkside reporter Gabby Shirley, represent Bally on air, they technically are employees of the Lightning, so any TV broadcast on another local medium will include them.
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Eduardo A. Encina is a sports reporter covering the Tampa Bay Lightning. Reach him at
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