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Sinclair buys 21 former Fox sports networks from Disney

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Nearly one year after the U.S. Department of Justice ordered Disney to sell off 22 Fox regional sports networks as a provision of its Fox deal, Disney has successfully unloaded the full package, and the winner is Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Disney and Sinclair have reached a deal for all 21 channels, with a price tag of $10 billion. That’s far cheaper than the $15 billion to $25 billion range most analysts had predicted Disney could get; Guggenheim Partners had valued the portfolio at $25 billion.

This deal, when official, will be the third sports TV move Sinclair has made in a short time.

In March, Sinclair joined Blackstone and Amazon in backing the New York Yankees’ $3 billion re-purchase of the 80% of YES Network the team had sold to Fox in 2014. YES Network was the 22nd channel in the former Fox portfolio, and was seen as the crown jewel.

And back in February, Sinclair partnered with the Chicago Cubs to create a new RSN in Chicago, to be called Marquee Sports Network, that will air all local Cubs games beginning in 2020.

Sinclair was already the largest owner of local television stations (it owns 200) in the country, but didn’t previously have a large footprint in sports broadcasting, apart from owning Tennis Channel. (It is also a partner in the joint venture sports streaming platform Stadium.) By 2020, it will operate 22 regional sports networks, plus a minority ownership stake in YES.

Even as large as it is, Sinclair was not a widely-known name until last year, when the company’s conservative leaning came into focus after the sports blog Deadspin made a super-cut video of scores of local news anchors at Sinclair-owned stations reading pre-scripted remarks about “fake news” that echoed President Trump’s public statements about the media. Trump publicly supported Sinclair’s attempted $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, and when the FCC did not approve the deal, Trump called it “sad and unfair.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - May 19: Former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez with the Fox Sports team as a Major League Baseball analyst during the Los Angeles Angeles Vs New York Mets regular season MLB game at Citi Field on May 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The 21 former Fox RSNs are overall not as profitable as they once were, but YES Network is a money-maker and in some local markets, ratings have been up over the past couple years. On most of the channels, pro baseball is the main draw.

The sale process for the RSNs became a very public bidding race. At various times during the process, Liberty Media, the rapper Ice Cube, and even Major League Baseball itself were all reportedly interested.

Yahoo Finance has reached out to both Disney and Sinclair for comment; neither company has yet publicly confirmed the deal.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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