Great deal for TV-watching Braves fans: Pay now, pay later

Baseball fans wait for gates to open before a game at Truist Park, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /



Baseball fans wait for gates to open before a game at Truist Park, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /

If Comcast and Bally Sports come to an agreement to restore the Braves and other MLB teams back to the air, it will come at an added cost for viewers, either sooner or later.

And if they don’t come to an agreement, then the next iteration of the Braves on television could be a lot different for all fans. Shockingly, this possibility will probably also require more dollars from fans.

And in the meantime, the games will remain off Comcast.

Three cheers for the profit motive.

A primer: Diamond Sports Group, which owns Bally Sports South and several other regional sports networks under the Bally name, filed for bankruptcy in March 2023. The company has been scrambling ever since.

In the midst of that, Comcast has wanted to move the Bally networks to a premium tier as it has done with other RSN’s. As RSN’s have a smaller but loyal following compared to other cable channels, this would place more of the cost of fees paid by Comcast to Bally on the backs of those viewers. Comcast also wants to make this transition as quickly as possible. Diamond Sports wants existing viewers to be grandfathered in and not required to pay the premium fees, according to Lee Berke, a a longtime television sports executive who has worked with NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL teams.

Without an agreement reached, Comcast pulled the plug on its Bally channels May 1.

In the meantime, Diamond has a June 18 hearing in bankruptcy court to confirm its plan to escape bankruptcy. It would be significantly helpful for Diamond to have an agreement by that point with Comcast, but it’s possible that Comcast may first want to see how the court rules before committing to a deal with Diamond. Comcast has often proven to be quite patient at the negotiating table.

“You’re trying to get out of bankruptcy in June and you have to show a viable business plan that shows that you’re a going concern (capable of staying in business for foreseeable future),” Berke told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And right now all of that is very much in question.”

If Comcast and Diamond reach an agreement, Bally Sports would be put on a premium tier that might cost viewers an extra $20 per month. Comcast subscribers in Pittsburgh, for instance, pay that amount for SportsNet Pittsburgh (which carries Pirates and Penguins games) on top of their normal bill.

Fans of the Hawks, whose games are also carried mostly by Bally, would face the same choice of paying extra to keep watching. And, surely, other cable distributors that carry Bally – or that dropped it, like YouTube TV and Hulu – would demand the same agreement from Diamond Sports.

And what if Diamond Sports – and Bally Sports South along with it – disappear?

The Diamondbacks and Padres are possible examples. Bally networks previously broadcast games for both teams, but Diamond Sports relinquished its contracts with both teams, leaving MLB to take over.

In addition to the typical distribution outlets like cable and satellite, both now have direct-to-consumer arrangements for fans in the teams’ home markets. The games are available on empty cable and satellite channels that show only the games (along with pre- and post-game shows). The direct-to-consumer option can be streamed to a phone, tablet or TV.

You didn’t think these games are part of the standard cable package, though, did you?

Padres and Diamondbacks fans have to purchase an additional package ($20 per month) to get them.

It’s conceivable that post-Bally Braves games could be aired on a local over-the-air station, like Peachtree TV. The Utah Jazz, for instance, lost its RSN and now offers options to watch games on an app (for a fee) or on a local station.

But it would seem less likely for a local station (it could not be a network affiliate) to take that on for baseball as opposed to hockey or basketball because the number of games would be more disruptive to programming.

And even if fans didn’t subscribe to cable and watched the games through an app or local television, that would leave them unable to watch the games broadcast on ESPN, TBS or MLB Network.

So, fans will be left either to pay an extra fee either to the cable provider or to the team, but they’re going to have to pay somebody.

Some sports TV experts have a more optimistic view of the future of Bally Sports. Patrick Crakes, like Berke a TV sports executive with his own company, sees a continued place for RSN’s in the marketplace.

“My expectation is it will get figured out,” Crakes told the AJC. “It’s going to look a little different than what DirecTV and Cox and Charter did, but I just think it’s in Comcast’s best interest to keep these RSN’s.”

Cox Communications and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution both are owned by Sandy Springs-based Cox.

Crakes even predicted an agreement could be in place by Memorial Day. He also doubts that teams want to go towards essentially being their own channel. While the rights fees they can get from Diamond Sports may be reduced, without them they would have to go out and try to earn the same revenue by selling subscriptions at $20 per month (along with ad revenue). It’s certainly possible, and the most industrious and clever teams could make the risk pay off, but it’s a much heavier task.

One way or another, though, fans will have to pay the cost to keep watching.

At least once they’re able to actually start watching again.