Major League Baseball announced this week that it has hired a trio of executives with experience at Bally Sports and AT&T SportsNet to its newly created Local Media department. Doug Johnson has been named senior vice president and executive producer of the department. Greg Pennell joins MLB as their new senior vice president of local media. Kendall Burgess has been named the department’s vice president of technical operations.
“These new hires are an important step in our preparation to address the changing landscape of MLB game distribution in light of the increasing challenges and pressure facing regional sports networks,” MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said in a statement within the league’s press release. “The decades of experience and expertise in game production and operations that Doug, Greg, and Kendall bring to Major League Baseball reinforces our commitment to deliver the highest quality game telecasts to our fans.”
Previously, Johnson has spent 16 years at AT&T SportsNet, managing remote and studio productions in addition to overseeing day-to-day and long-term planning of 250-plus annual events. He’ll oversee all games locally produced by MLB. Pennell comes to MLB from Bally, where he oversaw day-to-day financial operations. He’ll handle production operations of all local MLB telecasts, per the league’s release. Burgess, too, was previously with Bally, where she held the same title and provided direction for Bally’s 19 RSNs as they produced more than 4,500 annual sporting events.
All three of the new hires will report to department head Billy Chambers, a former FOX Sports exec whom MLB hired one month ago to lead the fledgling department. The very creation of MLB’s new local media department is reflective of the turmoil currently being felt throughout the RSN industry — a model that appears to be rapidly dying in a content market dominated by streaming services.
Whether things escalate to that point is dependent on the increasingly grim outlook of the two major corporations behind the RSN model. Diamond Sports Group — the corporation that owns the Bally Sports RSNs which broadcast the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Guardians, Marlins, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Royals, Tigers and Twins — has fewer than 30 days to pay off debts or default on those commitments after recently forgoing more than $140MM of payment to creditors.
There’s similar uncertainty regarding AT&T SportsNet, which is owned by Warner Bros Discovery. Last week, WBD announced its intent to withdraw from the RSN model, leaving the broadcast situation uncertain for the Astros, Rockies and Pirates. Per Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, WBD gave those teams a March 31 deadline to reacquire broadcasting rights before those RSNs file for chapter 7 liquidation. MLB’s Opening Day, of course, is set for March 30.
The Mariners also broadcast games via an AT&T SportsNet affiliate, but as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times wrote last week, they’re not affected by WBD’s withdrawal from the RSN business due to the fact that the team owns the majority stake in the ROOT Sports Northwest network. Network president Patrick Crumb told Baker that as far as the Mariners are concerned, it’s a “steady state” and “business as usual” for them.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has already gone on the record to state that MLB has the capacity to and is prepared to take over in-market broadcasting, should it ultimately be deemed necessary. The creation of a local media department and the hiring of three seasoned, high-ranking RSN executives meshes with Manfred’s comments about the league’s preparedness to overtake broadcasting responsibilities, if (or when) necessary. Exact permutations of how that might look are surely still being discussed. Rangers owner Ray Davis chatted with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News about that very topic yesterday, expressing obvious concern in the short-term while simultaneously voicing optimism that the looming paradigm shift could lead to a larger number of providers broadcasting games and the eventual elimination of a lot of the blackout issues that have been chief among fans’ complaints for years.
For Love of the Game
Glad to see MLB has a “plan.” There may be a strong streaming business there as both of those RSN groups have been burdened with heavy debt from buyouts of their former corporate owners. Ultimately it will be good for the game to allow streaming outside of the $100/mo. cable bundle. But major transformations rarely happen without bumps in the road.
Seems a bit strange, though, giving positions to guys who came from a failing venture.
Meh, just becuase you are from a failing venture doesn’t mean you were part of the failure.
Ton’s of folks in my industry have left bad leaders/companies and thrived for companies elsewhere.
Yeah, but in your industry all you need to do is find a better street corner 😉
Oh, how I wish that was true lol
Chris the Great
Sinclair created the issue with their RSN. When they created it they highly leveraged the FOX purchase. That’s why it’s not directly part of Sinclair. Not sure if it could have survived in a perfect world. Sometimes it’s not the RSN that is at a fault but the higher boss.
Just think back, Toysrus didn’t fail, the hedge funds that bought it barried it in debt. Same here…
Terrestrial Broadcasts! They are digital now, and have virtually perfect broadcasts (unlike your Cable/Streaming providers that throttle your service during peak hours, aka, Baseball time)
Digital receiver is a 40-120$ One Time investment. No monthly fees. Forget cutting you cord…cut your Bill!
Problem with using the old fashioned aerial there’s only the fox game of the week available that way.Not good if your a big fan of the sport,
Terrestrial works great if you’re in market but I live 350 miles from the team that I follow.
joblo — yeah, the outta market thing is a shortfall of Terrestrial. I believe some of the Digital Antennas pull from up to 150 miles, which is like double old UHF signals, but yeah, at 350 miles…streaming probably the only way.
How many teams regularly broadcast over the air at this point? None I’m aware of, but I’m sure some do.
Ted — I dunno how many do broadcast that now, just was trying to make the point that Terrestrial Broadcast is a proven business model, and has superior technology compared to the alternatives.
Given that Streaming Networks are losing money as quickly as they can, in order to gain market share, the real ‘cost’ is hidden. At some point (market share gains are large enough, or Shareholders want their decade of billions of dollars back), the prices will go up, the balance sheets get messy, and we’re back to the RSN over leveraged fiasco. None of those streaming networks are making money, some have gone underwater already (CBS All Access, we hardly knew yea), and many more are scaling back or canceling plans for Streaming networks).
Hopefully MLB learns from this and doesn’t jump out of RSN frying pan, and into the Streaming fire.
“Jump out of RSN into the streaming fire?”
MLB.tv has existed for 20+ years and been wildly successful. It’s the gold standard in sports streaming. It’s not like MLB is comparable to CNN trying to launch CNN+ here…
Ted — You’re right, MLB.tv production (and MLB Network) are first rate. The best of all the leagues, no doubt.
My reference of “out of the fire” is about the unproven revanue stream that Streaming Model is currently.
If Disney and Wanner Brothers Discovery are both vexed at how to make money in the Streaming model, kinda ballsy of MLB to bet half the leagues revanue that MLB can do what everyone is trying, and virtually none have achieved.
Terrestrial offers a known/proven business model. And it’s “new” now, offering digital possibilities not known when we (maybe just me) fixed Rabbit Ears on a TV set.
(Those that can/have success in Streaming are Apple and Amazon, who have other revanue streams that can offset the Streaming Platform losses.)
Ted-o local broadcasts are available with aerial in any city.That ship sailed long ago.Only national games on fox.You might get one of the rsn telecasts opening day simulcast on free tv like Detroit but that’s it.Last year since Tigers were once again terrible only the home opener was on free tv.
Surprised it took this long.
I cancelled cable at least 5 years ago, and watch MLB games via the MLB.TV streaming service. No reason to pay for who knows how many channels we don’t watch.
Depending on how you negotiate, cable is not as bad a deal as people let out to make it. You still need good Internet and bundling together saves big bucks. Add in convenience of one main device (I also use a fire stick) and to me cable is worth it.
I refuse to watch anything where I don’t control the schedule. I watch what I want, I watch when I want, and I watch commercial free. I’ll never go back to cable no matter what the price.
Well 99% of shows are complete crap. So, I suppose no loss.
Paying to watch commercials is dumb.
And that’s the primary reason I still subscribe to cable: I have a DVR and skip the commercials, Everything I watch is with the DVR. I avoid commercials when I stream unless I pay for the commercial-free subscription level, and I’d need to subscribe to a half dozen services if I wanted to watch the same programs I get on cable,. That and the fact that cable is the only way for me to get the local all-news station. Streaming services are the networks’ response to the majority of viewers time-shifting their viewership and skipping ads.
MLB.TV, in my opinion, is the best major sports app out there. I got rid of cable, as you did, about 8 years ago and have been watching my beloved Phillies here in Colorado on the app ever since. I used to get the NBCS Gold “Philly” package that allowed me to watch Phillies pre and post game shows. But NBC put a stop to that one.
I have noticed that you can get certain pre and post game shows for some teams on the app and I think that’s great and hope it expands.
On the suerface, this appears like the perfect opportunity for MLB to capitalize and provide quality, non-blackout coverage AND add MLB Network to the MLB.TV app. We’d finally get to watch the Rockies (not that that’s exciteing presently).
I would happily pay an extra $10-20 per year on my subscription for that.
Also in Colorado, with no interest in the Rockies, but would love to see my Giants when they play the Rockies.
MLB.TV is all I get, but it’s a really skittish app and if MLB is going to take it over, I hope they plan on fixing the problems.
I don’t really have any issues with the app (which is owned by MLB), but I do feel for you as I only miss 6 games a year (well, 3 becuase I got to Coors when the Phitghtin’s are here), you miss 3x as many as I do.
Yeah, my trips to Coors are only for Giant games, usually two a year.
Those are usually home games for you guys.
So what will this mean for the Orioles and Nats in the long run, I wonder?
It sure looks like MASN was correct all along that the rights fees demanded by the Nats would put the network at risk. All these networks are realizing there isn’t enough money to be scraped from cable subscribers to sustain the inflated broadcast rights bubble.
Of course, MLB wanted to get the Nats out of the MASN contract almost as soon as the ink dried, and were fine trying to bankrupt MASN to do it. In the end, MASN will still be forced to pay a massive chunk—a good bit that is still owed to both teams—but I doubt that given the collapse of this regional model in so many places that MASN will somehow be amazingly profitable after the Nats and MLB fleece them for fees that can’t realistically be sustained for any length of time.
MASN needs to go away. They barely even try. For both teams.
I’ve been waiting for that. The MASN debacle is much worse, and doesn’t have the same issues.
Nats ask too much, masn offers far too little, and, the split between net to Angelos and net to Lerner is out of whack.
Someone who oversees day-to-day operations sounds more like a manager or controller, not a c-suite executive.
This was a reply to someone else’s comment but I guess they deleted it and the site isn’t letting me delete the comment
I love how MLB went out and hired execs from the very companies that are collapsing to being with.
I hope they add some people who understand what is going on outside the world of dying cable networks.
Like Vince McMahon.
For Love of the Game
What is accelerating the demise of RSNs is debt from their buyouts. Production executives probably aren’t responsible for that, the owners are.
If you’re implying those hired by MLB were part of the problem. Your wrong. They are part of the production aspect of it.
Possibly. However, as someone who produced major sports TV myself, they must have had some input.
Pete’sView-As someone who claims to have been producer. If you read the articles that have been posted about this subject. The root of the problem is Diamond Sports inherited a $8B debt when they purchased what once was Fox Regional Sports Networks from Disney. Now please tell me how those former producers who now work for MLB have something to do with that?
These are the guys that are responsible for the actual broadcasts, not the execs that got the RSNs in trouble because of their debt load.
Why would you not hire the guys with the expertise at putting together a top notch broadcast?
I suspect the collapse has more to do with the financial leverage and backloaded contract terms than how the day-to-day business was managed. The sheer amount of debt incurred by the purchase of the RSNs from Disney made this outcome a certainty as the RSNs see fewer paying customers every year due to “cord cutting” and streaming.
Old timer 78
MLB could loose the LOW Income, non social media, non cable, non Urban Living fans. What do you think?
I hate when low income people get loose. Hard to wrangle them.
If you think they’re tough, the high income people are just impossible to control once they get loose. They act like they own everything!
They usually do.
And they do.
Come on MLB get this right. People should be able to stream their favorite team and watch all their games. I mean the NBA, NHL and NFL can do it so why not baseball.
Old timer 78
What would the Local TV ANTENNA Coverage INCREASE be in the San Deigo/Tijuana Area. I Bet the LAD WOULD NOT BE HAPPY.
I don’t KNOW, perhaps in the FEW MILLIONS.
End the local blackouts on MLB.tv
Figure it out period! Broadcast my Atlanta Braves games. I pay for MLB TV each year and will do so to watch my team. No one wants to pay for Cable TV anymore just to get 75 plus channels of Music/ Meditation screensavers. That old model is dead. We cut the cord 8 yrs ago.
I’m a Phillies Phan and I approve this comment.
i’m a cards fan and i also approve, the only reason i haven’t cut the cord was because of my dad because using technology wasn’t his forte. even with cable i still 3rd partied cards games because the resolution was better than the hd box i was paying for.
Of course the Mariners won’t be streamable. Makes sense since I live in the 253 if be forced back to radio option.
They hired a guy from FOX the network of Evil? WDaFrunk?
Long term they need to hire streaming experts but short term they just need to sell lots more commercials lol
End Blackout restrictions!