When Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired 21 regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Co., it transformed its business from being one of the nation’s largest local TV station owners known for its conservative editorial bent into a media conglomerate with a huge stake in sports broadcasting, reports The Baltimore Sun.
It soon began looking for a partner to get in on what some see as the next evolution in media. Fans not only want to watch local and regional sports, Sinclair executives believe, but they want to bet on those games, too.
“Sports betting is going to be part of a bigger mega-trend,” the “gamification” of sports, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said during a recent interview.
After talking with sports betting players and gaming operators, Sinclair agreed to a partnership announced in November with casino operator Bally’s.
That has meant investing across platforms in websites, mobile apps and streaming services such as Sinclair’s STIRR. And it means increasingly making the experience interactive. It’s part of a lengthy transformation from earlier days of broadcast when Sinclair started with a single Baltimore TV station.
But embracing sports and gambling doesn’t mean giving up its past and present as a local broadcaster and news provider. It just adds another dimension to the business, one seemingly less political.
“Sports are apolitical, as well as local, and provide a welcome relief from the issues of the day,” Ripley said in a statement. “But, we also remain dedicated to providing our viewers with the vital local and national news coverage they need to make informed decisions every day ... We will continue to be a one-stop shop for our viewers for their choice of news, sports and entertainment.”
Sinclair continues to bet big on sports alongside its local news programming, believing that the future will involve betting on teams and players, made possible as legalized sports gambling spreads across the United States in the wake of a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that reversed a federal statute that had kept it mostly in Nevada.
Sports betting has taken off, growing 27% this year even as overall gambling revenue has plummeted amid COVID-19 casino closures. The gaming association said the latest figures partly reflect strong consumer interest in new legal betting markets in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and Washington, D.C.
Sinclair and Bally’s plan to incorporate online sports betting technology into all the former Fox regional sports networks, creating an interactive sports gambling experience for viewers.