Deal reached for sale of Fox Sports South, other networks

Braves broadcasters (l-r) Chip Caray, Jeff Francoeur and Joe Simpson.

Braves broadcasters (l-r) Chip Caray, Jeff Francoeur and Joe Simpson.

The television homes of the Braves, Hawks and Atlanta United are getting a new owner.

Sinclair Broadcast Group has reached an agreement to buy 21 Fox regional sports networks across the country, including Atlanta-based Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast, from the Walt Disney Co.

Sinclair and Disney announced the deal Friday afternoon, saying the networks were valued at $10.6 billion. The purchase price will be $9.6 billion after adjusting for minority equity interests, the companies said.

“This is a very exciting transaction for Sinclair to be able to acquire highly complementary assets,”  Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said in a statement. “While consumer viewing habits have shifted, the tradition of watching live sports and news remains ingrained in our culture.”

Sinclair owns, operates and/or provides services to 191 local TV stations in 89 markets, according to the company.

Disney had been seeking a buyer for the Fox regional sports networks since acquiring them as part of a $71 billion purchase, which closed earlier this year, of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets. Disney had agreed to sell off the RSNs within 90 days as a condition of U.S. Justice Department approval of the larger deal because regulators believed the company, which owns ESPN, would have too much control over sports television if it kept the regional channels.

Braves, Hawks and Atlanta United games are televised on Fox Sports South/Southeast. Existing broadcast rights contracts will remain in place after the networks change owners. The Braves’ rights deal runs until 2027 and often draws criticism from fans because it pays the team less than many other MLB clubs’ local TV contracts.

Before Sinclair emerged as the buyer, Braves owner Liberty Media was among the other companies that expressed interest in acquiring the 21 Fox RSNs, which collectively hold broadcast rights to 14 MLB teams and 16 NBA teams. Liberty is controlled by billionaire John Malone, a longtime cable-TV mogul.

"It would be logical that we would look at it. But we're going to look at it only on the basis that it's attractive for us for the long term and that we can see reasonable upside, given what our clear risks in the distribution of these (networks would be) in the changing (distribution) world," Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said Feb. 28.

Fox Sports South and Southeast reach nine million households across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.