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Yankees TV deal puts Amazon in business with Trump-friendly local news empire

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Nearly nine months after the U.S. Department of Justice told Disney that as part of its acquisition of Fox it must sell off all 22 of Fox’s regional sports networks (RSNs), the first of those RSNs has reportedly sold.

YES Network, the channel that shows New York Yankees games and the most valuable of the Fox RSN portfolio, has a new majority owner: the New York Yankees.

The team already owned 20% of the network (YES stands for Yankee Entertainment and Sports) but Fox has owned the other 80% since 2014. Now, as first reported by Fox Business, the team has bought back Fox’s majority stake from Disney at a price tag of $3.4 billion, with backing from Blackstone Group, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and Amazon.

Amazon is likely getting the smallest stake of those partners, but its involvement is extremely significant for obvious reasons: it is the first time Amazon has invested in a linear television network.

Amazon has aggressively ramped up its sports streaming efforts recently, spending to live-stream NFL games, ATP tennis, and Premier League soccer games. But owning a piece of an RSN is uncharted waters for Amazon, a tech company that has no experience with operating a television property.

That’s where Sinclair comes in. While Amazon’s interest is clearly to stream Yankees games, it will likely leave the operation of the linear TV channel to Sinclair.

New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird is interviewed by Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network after the Yankees 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL on Sept. 16, 2015. (Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

Sinclair: Conservative tilt

Sinclair is the largest owner of television channels in America. It owns nearly 200 channels, including local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. In other words: Sinclair is in bed with every major television company.

But Sinclair’s conservative tilt emerged in the past year as a political lightning rod when the sports blog Deadspin made a super-cut video of scores of local news anchors at Sinclair-owned stations reading the same exact pre-scripted remarks about “fake news” that parroted President Trump’s public views of the media.

“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” the Sinclair script went. “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda... This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”

Trump has publicly praised Sinclair and its channels. Just a few days after the Deadspin video garnered national attention, Trump tweeted, “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

Trump also championed Sinclair’s attempted $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media. When the FCC did not approve the deal, he called it “sad and unfair.” Last August, Tribune ended the talks and sued Sinclair.

Amazon: Trump target

Amazon, of course, has landed on the direct opposite side of the political discussion during the Trump presidency. Trump has repeatedly criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in tweets, and calls the Washington Post the “Amazon Washington Post.”

When the National Enquirer reported details of Bezos’s extramarital affair, Trump tweeted, “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post.”

What will Trump make of the tech company he hates most partnering up with the media company he loves best? The YES Network deal puts Amazon and Sinclair in an alliance as co-owners of a television business.

Amazon declined to comment on this story, calling reports of the YES Network deal “rumors/speculation” since it is not yet official. Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment.

Disney still needs to sell off the other 21 RSNs, and has 90 days to do so after its acquisition of Fox goes through.

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

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Who will buy Fox’s 22 regional sports networks?

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