Fans of the NHL are often considered some of the most passionate across all sports. As the offseason comes to an end, many are eager to don their sweaters and root for their favorite clubs.
However, as a pivotal bankruptcy case unfolds in a Houston courthouse, fans are left in the dark anxiously wondering where they can watch the action unfold.
Bally Sports provides regional broadcasting for 12 NHL teams including the Kings, Ducks, Predators, Lightning, Coyotes, Blues, Red Wings, Panthers, Wild, Blue Jackets, Stars, and Hurricanes. They also deliver coverage for several NBA and MLB teams as well.
Working as an independently run subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Diamond Sports Group, which operates the Bally Sports Network, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas back in March of this year.
The rationale behind the bankruptcy filing was for Diamond Sports to separate from Sinclair entirely eliminating debt and to work as a stand-alone company. But since that time nothing has been resolved. In fact, it’s only become more contentious between Diamond and Sinclair.
Amid the ongoing bankruptcy case, Diamond Sports sued Sinclair in late July under the complaint that its parent company engaged in “fraudulent transfers” of up to $1.5 billion to pay off its debt. Including lying to evaluators of the company about agreements with DISH Network and Hulu that were never going to happen to gain more funding.
Sinclair responded with a counter lawsuit earlier this month claiming Diamond owes over $147 million in management services. You start to see how this is all becoming one big jumbled mess.
But what exactly does this mean for fans who just want to know where they can watch their teams? Well, the unfortunate answer is…we still have no idea. With the 12 NHL teams still tied to contracts with Bally, all they can do is sit back and wait till the court proceedings play out, or until the league decides to separate from those deals altogether.
In a recent interview with Michael Russo of The Athletic, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly explained how the league is still in a “wait and see” mode when it comes to knowing where their games will be aired, “Obviously the sooner, the better, but the whole landscape is really muddied by the bankruptcy in the sense that you can’t establish firm timelines.”
Daly further explained that the NHL is looking at every possible contingency given the uncertainty of the situation. Those contingencies could include carriers like Disney, Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Scripps, and Nexstar, according to a report from nexttv.com, with those companies ready to pounce on any TV rights that become available.
But with the season quickly approaching how much longer can the NHL afford to wait?
After Diamond Sports Group’s deadline to file its reorganization plan was extended to September 30, Shana Elberg, a lawyer representing the NHL, notified the judge that if negotiations aren’t resolved soon the league could come back to the court asking for emergency relief. Which would relinquish Bally Sports of their contracts with the teams.
“It’s critical that we have certainty as we prepare for the 2023-24 NHL season. Our regular season starts on October 10. To be transparent and to avoid surprises to the court”, Elberg told the Texas Southern District Bankruptcy Court in a hearing on August 11. “We just wanted to make sure the court was aware that if we don’t have any reasonable certainty in the near future, we may be coming back to the court on potentially short notice to request any appropriate necessary relief.”
With just mere weeks until the Kings and Coyotes kick off the NHL preseason in Australia, it might be time for the league to step in and provide their fans with more clarity on how they can watch their favorite hockey teams.