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Bally Sports Sun retains Lightning games as parent company struggles

Diamond Sports is fighting for survival, but the team worked out an agreement with the regional sports network to air 71 games.
 
Lightning TV color analyst Brian Engblom will still be calling games on Bally Sports Sun this season.
Lightning TV color analyst Brian Engblom will still be calling games on Bally Sports Sun this season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 6, 2023|Updated Oct. 7, 2023

TAMPA — While Diamond Sports, the company that owns the Bally Sports-branded regional TV networks, continues to work through bankruptcy in the courts — its broadcast future in certain NHL markets in question less than a week before the season begins — it has been business as usual for the Lightning’s regional rights holder.

Bally Sports Sun announced Thursday that it would broadcast all 71 non-nationally-exclusive regular-season Lightning games, starting with the second game of the season, at the Red Wings on Oct. 14. The Lightning’s other 11 regular-season games will be shown by ESPN and TNT, starting with Tuesday’s season opener against the Predators (ESPN). Potential first-round postseason games also would be broadcast on Bally Sports Sun.

With Diamond Sports entangled in debt reorganization since petitioning for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, the future of the Lightning on Bally Sports Sun seemed in question. But the Lightning and Bally reached an agreement and signed a deal last season. The terms haven’t been released.

Play-by-play man Dave Randorf and color analyst Brian Engblom will remain in the Bally Sports Sun Lightning booth; also back is rinkside reporter Gabby Shirley. Longtime broadcaster Paul Kennedy will continue to host the pregame, postgame and intermission segments, this season with analysis from former Lightning players Dave Andreychuk, Adam Hall and Braydon Coburn.

The Lightning's Bally Sports Sun schedule includes 71 regular-season games.
The Lightning's Bally Sports Sun schedule includes 71 regular-season games. [ Bally Sports Sun ]

In recent years, cable providers (Frontier) and streaming services (YouTube TV, Hulu) have lost the Bally Sports networks from their subscription packages. Bally Sports Sun reported that last season was its most widely watched in the Lightning’s 31-year history.

Diamond Sports, which runs the 19 Sinclair-owned Bally Sports regional networks carrying games for about 70 NHL, Major League Baseball and NBA teams, was $8.6 billion in debt when it requested Chapter 11 protection, which allows it to continue operating normally through reorganization. Last week, the company petitioned for a 60-day extension to submit its debt consolidation plan, which was due today. That extension hadn’t been granted.

The Lightning aren’t the only team that agreed to a new deal with its Bally Sports affiliate. Last month, the Kings and Bally Sports West announced a multiyear deal.

But on Wednesday, Diamond Sports requested to get out of its deal for Bally Sports Arizona with the Coyotes. On Thursday, the sides ended the agreement and the Coyotes announced a multiyear deal with Scripps Sports to broadcast their non-national games over the air.

The split in Arizona wasn’t surprising, especially after Bally Sports Arizona lost its deals with the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury before cutting ties with MLB’s Diamondbacks over the summer.

Florida, meanwhile, has been a boon for Diamond Sports. Lightning viewership on Bally Sports Sun was up 60% over the previous year. Rays viewership was up 27% this season compared with 2022, according to Nielsen data.

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Bally Sports Sun also broadcasts Miami Heat games in South Florida, and Bally Sports Florida is the rights holder for the Orlando Magic, Florida Panthers and Miami Marlins.

Bally Sports Sun is available on TV providers including Spectrum cable, DirecTV and Fubo. Lightning games also can be watched on the Bally Sports app and online at ballysports.com by logging in through a pay-TV provider or by subscribing to the Bally Sports+ streaming service.

New this season is the opportunity to purchase a Bally Sports+ season pass to receive Bally Sports Sun on the app through the duration of the Lightning season and into the first round of the postseason. Previously, a monthly or yearly subscription to the service had to be purchased for all Bally Sports Sun content.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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