A regional sports network (RSN) in the United States and Canada is a television channel that presents sports programming to a local media market or geographical region.
Some RSNs originated as premium channels. Since the 1990s, they have commonly been distributed through the expanded basic tiers of cable television and IPTV services. Direct broadcast satellite providers may require subscribers to purchase a higher programming tier or a specialized sports tier to receive local and out-of-market regional sports networks.
Viewership and advertising revenue on RSNs are highest during live broadcasts of professional and collegiate sporting events. These broadcasts are often the source content for out-of-market sports packages. During the rest of the day, these channels show news programs covering local and national sports, magazine and discussion programs relating to a team or collegiate conference, fishing and hunting programs, and in-studio video simulcasts of sports radio programs. RSNs also rerun sports events from the recent and distant past. Some RSNs air infomercials. In the United States, DirecTV offers all regional sports networks to all subscribers across the country, but live games and other selected programs are blacked out outside their home markets.
Regional sports networks are generally among the most expensive channels carried by cable television providers. A typical RSN, as of 2012[update], carries a monthly retransmission fee of $2 to $3 per subscriber, lower than the rates providers charge to carry ESPN and premium channels but higher than the rates for other cable networks. RSNs justify these high prices by citing demand for the local sports teams they carry, particularly those in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, as well as college teams that have large and loyal fanbases. Carriage disputes between distributors and RSNs are often controversial and protracted. Since 2013, television providers such as Charter Spectrum and Verizon FiOS have charged customers a "regional sports network fee" as a separate item on their bills. In response to high and increasing surcharges for RSNs and local broadcast channels, on March 22, 2023, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal to require television providers to advertise only "all-in" pricing, including all programming fees.
In Canada, Sportsnet operates four regional sports networks, and the otherwise nationally distributed TSN also maintains some regional operations. This differs from the operational structure of RSNs in the United States, which are independently operated from national sports networks.
Some sports teams own some or all of their respective RSNs. For example, the New York Rangers and New York Knicks have long co-owned their RSN, MSG; they also have purchased the rights to the Rangers' local rivals, the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. MSG also owns the rights to the Buffalo Sabres, but the Sabres produce their own games for MSG Western New York, a separate channel managed by MSG and Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Sabres.
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The first regional sports network is considered to be the Madison Square Garden Network. An early unnamed version of that network started broadcasting Knicks and Rangers to a small number of subscribers in Manhattan in May 1969. By the late 1970s another version of this network would launch and be made available to other cable systems in the metropolitan area and it would finally receive the name Madison Square Garden Television in 1980. Another early network considered by many to be an RSN is Philadelphia's PRISM which launched in 1976 offering coverage of three of the city's major sports teams and movies.
In 1976, Cablevision launched a new service providing coverage of Long Island sports (originally called Cablevision Sports 3). This channel would be renamed SportsChannel New York in 1979 and became the first channel to resemble a modern regional sports network. Other SportsChannels were launched in different cities and in 1988, they were formally organized into a group that shared programming and national TV rights.
During the 1990s, some teams experimented with pay-per-view or premium television broadcasts of games, which were generally unpopular. The Portland Trail Blazers ran BlazerVision, which charged a fee for every game, and which blacked out NBA on TNT coverage of Trail Blazer playoff games for fans within 40 miles (64 km) of Portland. The Chicago Blackhawks broadcast games exclusively on Hawkvision between 1992 and 1995.
As sports fans began to prefer watching their favorite teams on television rather than in person, RSNs became a very important source of revenue for professional teams and collegiate conferences. By 2011, regional sports networks were integral to the financial health of many U.S. sports ventures. Teams in smaller media markets were often disadvantaged by their reliance on RSNs, whereas teams in larger markets could negotiate more lucrative media rights deals.
In the 21st century, the rise of cord-cutting has led to decreasing cable and satellite television subscriber numbers in the U.S., which in turn has reduced the revenue that RSNs receive from television provider subscriber fees and advertising. Leagues responded by shifting broadcasts to Internet streaming media services. Due to the 2023 bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, operator of Bally Sports, Major League Baseball prepared to produce and distribute game broadcasts using its MLB.tv streaming service, without the local blackouts that have annoyed viewers. Major League Soccer, which previously broadcast most of its games regionally on RSNs, started to offer MLS Season Pass to residential customers exclusively on the Apple TV app in a 10-year deal starting in the 2023 season.
For more than 20 years, the primary RSN in many markets was owned by Fox Sports. Fox Sports Networks, which launched on November 1, 1996, as Fox Sports Net, was created through former parent News Corporation's October 1995 purchase of a 50% equity stake in Liberty Media-owned Prime Sports Networks, co-founded in 1988 by Bill Daniels and Liberty's then-sister company Tele-Communications Inc. The group expanded further in June 1997, Fox/Liberty Networks, the joint venture company operated by News Corporation and Liberty Media, purchased a 40% interest in the Cablevision-owned SportsChannel group.
As part of a rebranding effort, the collective branding of the networks – which eventually became "FSN (Region/City)" in 2004 – was extended to Fox Sports (Region/City) (also used from 1996 to 2000) with the start of the 2008 college football season. The FSN networks were acquired by Diamond Sports Group from The Walt Disney Company in 2019, as Disney was required to divest them by U.S. Department of Justice as a condition of their own acquisition of 21st Century Fox. The channel group was renamed Bally Sports on March 31, 2021, as part of a naming rights agreement with casino operator Bally's Corporation.
NBC Sports Regional NetworksEdit
Cable conglomerate Comcast began creating Comcast SportsNet (CSN) after their March 1996 purchase of a 66% stake in Philadelphia-based event organizer Spectacor, which owned the Flyers and 76ers. Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, the first CSN channel, launched on October 1, 1997. CSN purchased a small number of RSNs previously owned by Fox Sports Networks, and acquired the local rights to professional teams that FSN regional networks carried. In two markets, the latter situation resulted in Fox Sports shutting down their networks.
The January 2011 Comcast merger with NBCUniversal allowed NBC Sports to take operational control of these networks. In April 2017, Comcast SportsNet's California and Bay Area networks were rebranded under the NBC Sports brand; NBC Sports Regional Networks adopted the "NBC Sports" moniker on its other regional channels on October 2, 2017.
AT&T Sports NetworksEdit
In May 2009, DirecTV Group Inc. announced that it would become a part of Liberty Media's entertainment unit, with some of the group's assets subsequently being spun off as a separate company under the DirecTV banner; the Fox Sports Networks outlets that became part of the Liberty Sports unit (which was renamed DirecTV Sports Networks on November 19, 2009) were rebranded under the new name "Root Sports" on April 1, 2011.
DirecTV Sports Networks would be acquired by AT&T Inc. in 2015, as a byproduct of its acquisition of DirecTV. The renamed RSN unit, AT&T Sports Networks, rebranded its regional sports networks – excluding Root Sports Northwest, which is mostly owned by the Seattle Mariners – under the AT&T SportsNet banner on July 14, 2017.
In September 2018, AT&TSN was transferred to the WarnerMedia News & Sports division.
Spectrum Sports is the collective name for a group of regional sports networks that are primarily owned and operated by Charter Communications through its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in May 2016.
Sportsnet (formerly known as CTV Sportsnet and Rogers Sportsnet) is owned by the Rogers Media division of Toronto-based Rogers Communications. Sportsnet carries all of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball games. Although it is considered a national channel with multiple feeds for regulatory purposes, in practice its four main channels act as a set of RSNs, albeit with a significant portion of common national programming.
Through the separate Sportsnet One licence, Rogers also operates three part-time regional "companion channels", which provide coverage of additional regional NHL broadcasts which are not able to air on Sportsnet's main regional channels: Sportsnet Flames, Sportsnet Oilers, and Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey.
Rogers is also a shareholder in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which owns Leafs Nation Network, a channel devoted entirely to the Toronto Maple Leafs and its farm team, the Toronto Marlies (and is restricted to the Leafs' broadcast territory). MLSE also operates NBA TV Canada, which is distributed nationally but focuses much of its programming on the MLSE-owned Toronto Raptors and farm team Raptors 905.
On August 25, 2014, The Sports Network (TSN), another Canadian sports channel, split its singular national feed into four regional feeds in a manner similar to Sportsnet. These feeds are primarily used to broadcast regional NHL games, but may also be used to provide alternative and common national programming.
While each region has a primary TSN channel, due to overlaps in NHL territories it is possible in some parts of Ontario to access additional regional games from one non-primary channel.
Prior to the launch of these channels, regional NHL games whose rights were held by TSN (which, at that point, consisted solely of the Jets and Canadiens) were broadcast on special part-time channels exclusive to the team's television region.
Bell Media also owns Réseau des sports (RDS) and RDS2, French-language sports networks that are licensed to serve all of Canada, but in practice focus on the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec (as there are relatively few francophones outside that province). Prior to the 2014–15 season, RDS could air Canadiens games on a national basis, as it was also the national French-language rightsholder of the National Hockey League in Canada. With Rogers' acquisition of the exclusive national media rights to the NHL, and its decision to sub-license French rights to Quebecor Media's TVA Sports, RDS and RDS2's coverage of the Canadiens and Senators are now restricted to parts of Eastern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Some telecasts (especially in U.S. college sports) are broadcast by ad-hoc syndicated packages, which can be picked up on a network of broadcasters that may consist of either individual over-the-air stations, regional sports networks, or a mixture of both.
Jefferson-Pilot Communications and Raycom Sports were well-known as syndicators of college sports on broadcast television, having previously held agreements with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC). By the late-2000's. both packages began to wind down after ESPN acquired the media rights to both conferences; ESPN initially maintained a syndicated package known as "SEC Network", while Raycom was given a sub-license to continue its syndication package (subsequently renamed "ACC Network"). Both packages ended when ESPN launched dedicated cable channels for both conferences.
ESPN was originally intended to focus on sports in Connecticut, but chose to broadcast nationally when it debuted in 1979 when it was discovered by the network's founders that it would be less expensive to broadcast nationwide on satellite as opposed to regionally through microwave transmission. ESPN formerly served as a college sports syndicator via ESPN Regional Television—formerly branded on-air as ESPN Plus, but later using conference-oriented brands such as SEC Network (not to be confused with the SEC Network cable channel which succeeded it), and Big East Network. The SEC Network package was a successor to the previous Raycom Sports-produced SEC package.
In 2014, television station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group established its own sports syndicator known as the American Sports Network (ASN), primarily syndicating broadcasts of college football and basketball from mid-major conferences (some of which were previously associated with ESPN Plus) to stations that it owns and operates. In 2015, Sinclair also acquired regional rights to Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake, with ASN handling production and distribution of team telecasts within its designated market. ASN later began to operate a dedicated channel (which, in contrast to other sports channels, was distributed free-to-air via digital subchannels, and eventually subsumed its syndication of individual telecasts), and In 2017, was replaced by Stadium as part of a joint venture with Silver Chalice—which carries a larger focus on streaming distribution alongside digital subchannels.
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- Kaiser's Blog – Info on RSN history and some regions.