Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is close to scooping up a handful of television stations from Sinclair Broadcast Group, furthering Fox’s long-term goal to control more stations in sports markets, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Fox has designs on about eight to 10 stations, including in Seattle and Denver, which both have popular NFL teams.
Fox’s bid for the stations comes as Sinclair prepares to divest a number of TV stations to win the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of its $3.9-billion deal to buy Chicago-based television station group Tribune Media.
The planned acquisition of the Sinclair stations comes less than a month after Fox announced plans to sell the bulk of its business to the Walt Disney Co. for $52.4 billion. However, the Murdoch family plans to hold onto the company’s television stations, national sports networks, Fox News Channel and Los Angeles-based Fox broadcast network after the asset sale to Disney.
Murdoch has said he wants to remold a slimmed-down Fox to focus on news, sports and live programming.
Owning more TV stations would boost Fox’s business, particularly if the company consolidated stations in markets — such as Seattle — with football teams that play in the National Football Conference. Fox has the rights to broadcast those games, and TV stations that air NFL football games are among the most profitable broadcast properties around.
Television stations also rake in political dollars during election years, keeping them a healthy business despite the digital disruption roiling the industry.
In addition, Fox would like to lessen its dependence on Sinclair, which owns a number of Fox affiliate stations and is based in Hunt Valley, Md. The two companies must periodically negotiate revenue-sharing affiliate deals, and Sinclair is poised to become a larger and more formidable company.
The Tribune Media stations will give Sinclair coverage in much of the country. Key Tribune stations — including KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles, WGN Channel 9 in Chicago and WPIX-TV in New York — are jewels with strong local newscasts and will expand Sinclair’s footprint into the nation’s three largest cities.
The Financial Times first reported Fox’s deal to buy some Sinclair stations. Sinclair, which has 193 stations, also owns Fox affiliates in Baltimore; Nashville; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Madison, Wis.
Last year, Fox teamed up with private equity firm Blackstone Group to try to buy all of Tribune Media, because Fox was concerned about Sinclair owning such a large portion of Fox affiliates. But Sinclair was already far along in its talks with Tribune.
Some insiders have speculated that Fox might be on the prowl for TV stations owned by other companies in NFL football markets where Fox currently lacks a station. Fox could buy those stations and then move its Fox programming to a station it owns rather than rely on an affiliate partner.