Fans unhappy Braves telecasts still missing from some TV providers

Many Braves fans are looking forward to watching the defending World Series champs on television this season. But others are concerned that they again won’t be able to watch via their TV provider.

Bally Sports South and Bally Sports Southeast, the Atlanta-based regional sports networks that televise Braves games, remain unavailable on popular streaming services YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV and satellite TV provider Dish Network.

“I find it hard to believe in this day and age that MLB finds itself in a situation where it has become so difficult for fans to tune in nightly to see their favorite team,” Braves fan David Hartley said.

Bally Sports South and Southeast (formerly known as Fox Sports South and Southeast), which also televise Hawks, Dream and Atlanta United games, have been off YouTube TV, Hulu and several other live TV streaming services since fall 2020 and off Dish since summer 2019.

“I'm a big stats guy, so I'd follow on my phone by looking at the box score and live updates. That seemed to be enough. I don't think it really impacted my level of fandom, per se."

- Braves fan Michael Gray

The continuing absences stem from failures by the networks’ owner and the carriers to agree on contract terms. Twenty-one Bally-branded regional sports networks around the country, all owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, are affected.

Some Braves fans say they plan to switch TV providers during the season so they can watch the games. Some say they have adapted to not getting the games. Some say the Braves shouldn’t tolerate a situation that limits viewership.

Last year, ratings for Braves regular-season telecasts on Bally Sports South/Southeast were down 25% in the Atlanta TV market from 2019 levels. (All postseason games were carried by widely available national networks.)

Michael Gray, 32, a Braves fan “since before I can remember,” is a YouTube TV subscriber. He was unable to watch the regular-season games last year, except for national broadcasts or when he was “out and about.” For the most part, he found other ways to keep up.

“I’m a big stats guy, so I’d follow on my phone by looking at the box score and live updates,” the Roswell resident said. “That seemed to be enough. I don’t think it really impacted my level of fandom, per se.”

Gray worked for Fox Sports South in 2014-15, running social media accounts, and saw firsthand the reaction of viewers when carriage disputes would take the games off certain TV providers’ lineups.

“I would see the fan uproar, and generally speaking it was always the same thing: ‘We don’t care whose fault it is; we just want you to do something about it,’” recalled Gray, who no longer works in the TV business.

As a fan, however, he thinks it is “extremely important” that sports events be made available on increasingly popular streaming platforms “without making it overly expensive for the consumer.”

David Walker, who lives in Statesboro, is a Dish Network subscriber who has been a Braves fan since his father took him to his first game in 1966, the team’s inaugural season in Atlanta. He watched “a ton of games” on TBS when Ted Turner’s superstation made the Braves “America’s Team.”

“At first, I hated it,” he said of Dish not carrying the Bally-branded networks. “Then I kind of learned to live with it. … The thought of having to switch to, say, DirecTV is just too much trouble.” So he finds himself increasingly enjoying college baseball.

He is interested in Sinclair’s planned direct-to-consumer (DTC) sports streaming service that may launch by midyear and allow fans to access telecasts of local teams’ games for a stand-alone fee.

But even when Sinclair launches such a service, Braves telecasts may not be part of it. Sinclair has agreements with five MLB teams so far to be included, reportedly the Tigers, Royals, Marlins, Brewers and Rays.

“It's a shame that I can't watch the Braves unless I have a specific provider. I'm willing to pay extra to get Braves games, but the fact that I don't even have an option to do so without changing providers is crazy."

- Braves fan Chris Harvey, a FuboTV subscriber in Tennessee

The Braves “continue to believe that direct-to-consumer (TV) is critical to our future,” team CEO Derek Schiller told an investor conference in November, “and we are actively engaged with Major League Baseball in developing what the future of streaming looks like.” But Greg Maffei, CEO of Braves owner Liberty Media, expressed skepticism on a conference call last month about Bally’s proposed DTC model.

“Frankly, the way it is structured, I don’t think it’s attractive for most (MLB) teams to do that,” Maffei said.

The issue keeping the Bally-branded networks off Dish, YouTube TV (owned by Google), Hulu (owned by Disney) and several other streaming services (including Sling and FuboTV) boils down to how much the carriers should pay Sinclair.

Neither Sinclair nor Bally Sports South/Southeast would comment for this article. On a conference call with Wall Street analysts last month, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said the company has “active dialogues” with the major streaming distributors, but he didn’t signal any breakthroughs in the stalemates.

With the season opening April 7, Braves fans who subscribe to carriers that have dropped Bally Sports South/Southeast are left to decide whether to change TV providers, wait it out in hopes of a resolution or forgo watching the games.

The Bally networks remain available on many cable services, including Comcast’s Xfinity and Charter’s Spectrum, as well as on satellite provider DirecTV and some plans offered by streaming service DirecTV Stream (formerly named AT&T TV).

Hartley switched from YouTube TV to DirecTV Stream at the start of last season in order to watch the Braves, then switched back at the end of the regular season.

But another Braves fan, Chris Harvey, a FuboTV subscriber in Tennessee, doesn’t think it should be so hard to watch the team.

“It’s a shame that I can’t watch the Braves unless I have a specific provider,” Harvey said. “I’m willing to pay extra to get Braves games, but the fact that I don’t even have an option to do so without changing providers is crazy.”