Twins’ TV contract with Bally Sports isn’t what the team or its fans wanted

Twins’ TV contract with Bally Sports isn’t what the team or its fans wanted

FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins gamely pretended to be excited Monday by their new television contract, a one-year consolation prize they didn’t particularly want.

“We’re happy to be back with Bally Sports North. We know they’ll do a tremendous job in 2024, just as they have for the many years they’ve been the home of Twins baseball,” team President Dave St. Peter insisted. “At the same time, we know it’s not a perfect outcome for anyone.”

So true. The Twins wanted a new partner that could sell their games on a streaming platform and all but promised that new option last fall. But after a winter of looking for a partnership that made financial sense, they will enter the 2024 season without one, without a way for Twins fans to watch their games without paying for a wide swath of channels they won’t watch.

They remain stuck in the cable-bundling era, in which customers pay one monthly fee to receive 100 or more channels, while many or most of their viewers have moved on to the streaming era, in which customers subscribe (usually for far smaller fees) only to the channels that interest them. Cable and satellite packages were once hugely profitable for teams and their broadcasters, but for at least one more year, the Twins are handcuffed to that dying concept as they try to adapt.

Even the streaming services that do carry the Twins’ Bally Sports North broadcasts — FuboTV or DirecTV Stream, for instance — include them in cable-style bundles that cost $80 or more per month.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that some of our fans are finding it difficult to watch our games, and we want to rectify that as soon as we can,” St. Peter said. “We’re already working on 2025. We’ve had a lot of different conversations about the future of Twins television, and those conversations will continue.”

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The Twins’ most tantalizing option all along has been joining a collective effort by Major League Baseball to offer teams on its own streaming platform. But Diamond Sports Group, parent company of the 19 Bally-branded regional sports networks, has been in bankruptcy court for nearly a year, trying to remain in business, adding uncertainty that prevented MLB from creating such a product for this season.

Until that changes, the Twins were forced to settle for a new deal — at an undisclosed price, though presumably far lower than the $54 million BSN paid last year — to stay on the network for one more year.

But whether or not their broadcasting partner changes next year, the Twins fear that the loss of television revenue will last for several more. They have reduced payroll from roughly $154 million on Opening Day last year to a projected $130 million or so entering 2024.

“Our planning for a reduction in revenues has been pretty well documented, but we anticipate it being only for a period of time before it changes,” St. Peter said. “I think about it as building a business. We have content that is desirable, and we believe we can build a very viable business around streaming. It may be choppy for the next few years, but there is a robust opportunity there. We look forward to getting on with that future.”

Puckett’s catch prominent again

The Twins’ Hammond Stadium spring headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla., was relatively quiet Monday, as even early-arriving players took a final day off before spring training begins in earnest. Pitchers and catchers must check in by Wednesday, and they will begin team-organized workouts Thursday.

About 150 yards away from the ballpark, a familiar sight has been restored to its place of prominence in the Lee Health Sports Complex. A giant metal likeness of Kirby Puckett, leaping at the left-center-field wall to rob Ron Gant of an extra-base hit during the 1991 World Series, is once again suspended on the team’s minor league clubhouse.

The artwork was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian in 2022 and was taken down before last year’s camp opened as restoration took place.

That’s the most noticeable change about the Twins’ spring facilities. “Lee Health,” the team’s new naming-rights partner, now adorns the main scoreboard inside the stadium, “and we’ve made some cosmetic touches around the ballpark, added some new offerings in concessions,” St. Peter said. “We’re back to fully operational after the pandemic, the lockout and the hurricane, and we’re optimistic that fans will respond in the numbers they did before it all.”

The Twins drew 98,318 fans in 16 Grapefruit League games last spring, an average of 6,145. That was an 18.5% increase from the truncated 2022 spring schedule, but still 16.8% below the 7,385 fans they averaged in 2018.

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