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What to know about Disney buying Fox Sports Ohio

Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 @ 4:25 PM
Updated: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 4:05 PM
By: B.J. Bethel

When Disney acquired most of the licenses, studios and channels from 21st Century Fox, the focus was on big movies and TV properties - lost was Disney acquiring all of the Fox Sports regional outlets as part of the deal.

That means when the FCC and SEC approve the deal, which should take about a year, the network would rebrand (most likely to ESPN Ohio) which leaves many questions about in the air - such as the Reds being available on television.

“Reds fans shouldn’t be concerned,” Austin Karp, assistant managing editor of Sports Business Journal said. “They just signed a new deal through 2032. The (Reds) also own a stake in the network. That will be relatively stable.”

The Blue Jackets are signed with the network through the end of the decade. The Cavs are signed through 2021. Fox didn’t want to commit to a long term deal if LeBron James decided to make anymore decisions. 

The upside for Fox, Rupert Murdoch has a slimmed down version of his networks, focused on national news and sports. Fox will retain its news channels along with FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network

For ESPN, it gives them regional market penetration they’ve long sought but were never able to achieve.

The company launched properties such as ESPN Boston an ESPN LA, but the websites never took off, despite ESPN paying top dollar for local journalists. 

There’s also possibility of consolidation. Fox has two affiliates in LA and two in Ohio (Fox Sports Ohio and SportsTime Ohio). The Indians led the league in local television ratings, but ESPN may not see a reason to keep both networks when there are streaming and other options.

The Reds are one of the few teams to still have a stake in their local channel. They own 30 percent of Fox Sports Ohio. Karp said Disney would likely want to maintain a joint ownership.

“I think they’ll want to continue to keep business with the team,” Karp said. “That vested interest to make it work. At the same time, baseball teams want to be baseball teams, they don’t want to run a television network.”

Karp said big upsides were local editions of SportsCenter focused on regional sports as well as upgrades in production value. This would give the network more local flavor and help the national brand.

Karp said Disney and ESPN will continue to make plans for their acquisitions as they move through the approval process, but other factors also need to playout. Both Disney and ESPN will be hiring new presidents soon. 

There’s also the chance ESPN would sell off the regional affiliates to Comcast, ATT or some other digital or broadcast entity. 

“I’m speculating, but it’s an option,” Karp said. “They may not want this massive staple of networks.

The movie stuff made all the big headlines, but how this will shake out will be interesting. It’s the biggest thing I’m following.”