Who Will Become FOX Sports Midwest’s New Owner, Since ESPN Can’t Be?

On Sunday, Fox Sports Midwest will telecast its 150th and final St. Louis Cardinals game of 2018, concluding the first season of its new 15-year contract with the club. While we know the two will be paired for 14 more years, the ownership situation of the regional sports network (RSN), and 21 of its peers, is significantly more unsettled than when the season opened in April.

Last December, a sale of significant assets of 21st Century Fox to The Walt Disney Company was announced. Reportedly included are Fox’s Nat Geo, Star, movie studios and stakes in Sky and Hulu, and other international properties. Remaining with Fox are its news and business news divisions, broadcast network and Fox Sports.

The latter has one notable exception, however, Fox’s 22 RSNs are part of the sale. Among the 22 is the television home of the Cardinals and Blues, FOX Sports Midwest, which today is owned 70 percent by Fox and 30 percent by the Cardinals.

As most reading this probably already know, that 30 percent ownership stake is a recent change, part of the Cardinals 15-year television rights deal with FOX Sports Midwest announced in December 2015. The contract, reported worth more than $1 billion, runs through 2032. The Cardinals’ 2018 rights fee is reportedly $55 million and will be on an escalating scale over the term of the deal.

Following the December announcement, industry speculation centered on how ESPN, Disney’s sports arm, would incorporate the soon-to-be acquired Fox RSNs into its portfolio.

Changes have since rendered those particular questions irrelevant.

Last month, after review, the United States Department of Justice set a condition for the sale to be approved – ESPN must divest itself of the RSNs. That shifted the guessing game to who the second new buyers may be for the rights to 44 major league teams and over 5,000 hours of live sports programming annually.

Purchase options could include:

Teams themselves – Most may not be interested in all that goes with running an RSN, but one example of where it may work is with the YES Network and its original founder, the New York Yankees.

Comcast – Already owners of seven RSNs, Comcast may desire 22 more. There could be competitive issues with regulators, however, as there were with ESPN’s acquisition.

AT&T – The industry giant owns three RSNs and a minority stake in a fourth as well as DirecTV. Same situation as with Comcast.

Charter – Owner of five RSNs currently. Ditto for potential advantages and concerns.

Fox – They could make a move to buy back their own RSNs. This might be least disruptive to RSN operations, but would Fox change their mind?

Sinclair Broadcast Group – The largest owner of television stations in the United States, currently owning or operating a total of 193, has the cash, but interest level is unknown. Its planned acquisition of Tribune Media, owner of WGN in Chicago and 39 other stations, was called off by the seller last month and is now in litigation.

Private equity groups – Money, yes. Interest? Unknown.

Digital giants – Would the RSNs be interesting to new media companies like Google, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube or Facebook as they expand their business scope? The possibilities are both exciting and given the many unknowns, potentially scary.

There is no way to know yet how this will end up or what it may ultimately mean to the operations of the RSNs and their millions of viewers and subscribers – other than we know ESPN will not be part of the picture.

Rumors have this second sale running into first quarter of 2019 before it is finalized.


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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.