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Twins broadcasts could change channels with imminent court ruling

By Thursday, a bankruptcy court judge is expected to decide whether Major League Baseball can take over broadcasts from Bally Sports.

MINNEAPOLIS — A bankruptcy case playing out in Texas could change the way Minnesotans watch the Twins play baseball as early as Thursday.

Major League Baseball is locked in a payment dispute with Diamond Sports Group, the parent company of Bally Sports North, which broadcasts games for the Twins, Lynx, Wolves, and Wild.

Diamond Sports Group declared bankruptcy in March and the process has complicated its contracts, and payments, with several MLB teams.

On Tuesday, the San Diego Padres became the first team to part ways with Bally after Diamond Sports Group notified the team that it would not be making a scheduled payment to continue broadcasting games.

The team quickly announced a plan to offer games on different channels for local fans who are existing cable subscribers. The team also announced that it would lift local blackout restrictions for MLB streaming options. That means that local fans will now be able to stream games without a cable plan for $19.99 a month or $74.99 for the rest of the season.

Star Tribune Digital Sports Editor, Michael Rand, has been following the saga for months, and reporter Kent Erdahl spoke with him about what a transition might look like, and how it could impact fans of all kinds of Minnesota teams.

Kent Erdahl: "What's going to happen to the broadcast teams if tomorrow the Twins are going on their own with MLB?"

Michael Rand: "What's been reported with the Padres is that they kept the broadcast team, kept the play-by-play, kept the same analysts, so I don't think much about the broadcast itself changes, at least not right away." 

Erdahl: "One of the things that I found interesting about San Diego is that they said there will be many more people who will actually be able to watch the team now." 

Rand: "Yeah, because there's just more access to (the games). That's one thing I always hear after writing about this issue for startribune.com or talking about it on the Daily Delivery Podcast. People are always saying, 'I can't get the games anymore. I signed up for this, that, and the other thing, and now Bally Sports isn't on those channels,' or 'I've cut the cord and now I don't get this." So making it available over a sort of direct-to-consumer streaming platform, all of a sudden they're saying in San Diego, it will triple their potential audience. Teams are starting to realize that there's a benefit to getting your product in front of people instead of trying to hide it from them."

Erdahl: "That's the potentially positive side of all this. The other side would be if someone wants that kind of all-in-one package with all the local teams." 

Rand: "Yeah."

Erdahl: "Are we going to have that anymore?"

Rand: "That's a great question. I think in the short term you still will. The model we're seeing play out in San Diego is that if you still have Direct TV or you still have their bigger cable carriers, you're still going to get that. It might just be on a different channel. But if you get to the point where you don't want to have the cable bundle or the satellite bundle but you like the Wolves, you like the Twins, the Timberwolves, the Vikings, the Lynx, you like the Minnesota United. Those all used to be carried by Bally Sports. But the United games are all on Apple TV right now, and there could soon be a lot of places you have to go to get these teams. That means there could be a lot of little subscriptions you have to pay for. If you add them all up, will that still be cost savings to the consumer? I don't know."

Erdahl: "I wanted to ask you about the Lynx and the Wild and the Wolves. What's their status with Bally Sports North? Is up in the air with this bankruptcy as well?" 

Rand: "I haven't heard anything directly about those teams yet. Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't a question about how that all plays out. A lot of Lynx games are on Bally Sports North right now. I think 31 out of their 40 games this year are on Bally Sports North. What I understand is that the Wild and the Wolves at least have a couple of years left on their contract, so depending on how bankruptcy court plays out with those teams, it doesn't sound like those are as imminent.

With the Twins, we've been hearing so much about it because regardless of how all of this litigation plays out, their contract is up with Bally's at the end of this year."

Erdahl: "Kind of a new era of free agency?"

Rand: "Kind of. All these teams are trying to figure out how to get games to fans. All people really want is access to teams at a price that they feel like is fair and reasonable and for a long time the regional sports model worked, right? But then people started cutting the cord, then people started kind of buying these streaming packages, and it's kind of created this fragmentation where you kind of don't know exactly where it's all headed.

I don't think things are going to become more easy. I think they're only going to become more complicated as time goes on."

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