The Pirates announced Wednesday that they’ve entered into an agreement with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins for joint ownership of the SportsNet Pittsburgh network. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported the agreement. With the new partnership, SportsNet Pittsburgh will continue to carry all regionally broadcasted Pirates games and expand the network’s pregame and postgame coverage of the team.
“Above all else, this was the right thing to do for our fans,” Pirates president Travis Williams said in a press release announcing the agreement. “From the outset of this process, the most important thing to us was to ensure that our fans have the same level of access to Pirates game telecasts and the same high-quality production that they enjoy today. This agreement accomplishes that and more as we enable Pittsburgh sports fans to continue to enjoy a two-team, 24/7 sports channel.”
Mackey reports in a full column on the news that it’s expected to be a multi-year but still short-term agreement, giving Pirates fans some stability in knowing how to watch their team’s games while also leaving the team with the flexibility to pursue alternatives that may arise in the not-too-distant future. Pirates fans will want to check out the column in full, as Mackey chatted with Williams for a one-on-one interview regarding the new partnership.
The deal creates some eyebrow-raising partnerships due to the fact that daily operations of the network are handled by the New England Sports Network (NESN), which is owned by Fenway Sports Group. FSG owns the Penguins and holds an 80% stake in SportsNet Pittsburgh, per Mackey. That means that Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, the founders of FSG, will directly profit from the Pirates’ television broadcasts moving forward. Williams emphasized to Mackey that MLB has not deemed that to be a conflict of interest — FSG’s operations are a separate business venture from the Red Sox — and he added that the existing relationship between Henry, Werner and Pirates owner Bob Nutting actually helped to facilitate the arrangement.
Notably, Williams indicated that both the Pirates and Penguins are hoping to be able to offer a direct-to-consumer streaming option “as soon as possible,” adding that such a feature is currently at the works at NESN. Financial terms of the short-term arrangement and any potential down-the-road streaming options remain unclear, but Williams claimed the broadcast situation will not change the team’s payroll outlook.
“I don’t think payroll is a product of our television deal,” Williams told Mackey. “Payroll is a product of many different things in terms of where we are in building a team. As I’ve mentioned before, the revenue that comes from these types of deals, whether it’s this or a sponsorship or a jersey patch, any of those topics, that’s part of the overall revenues that we use to invest in the organization, areas where we’re going to make a difference.”