Bally Sports names Rebecca O’Sullivan-Schulte general manager — and she knows the hurdles she faces
The Dodgers and Lakers are long gone from what used to be the local Fox Sports Net cable channels. Of the 11 major pro teams that call the Southland home, just four — the Angels, Clippers, Ducks and Kings — play on the channels now called Bally Sports West and Bally Sports SoCal.
And, as consumers cut cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of streaming, the long-term viability of the Bally channels here and elsewhere in the United States has come into question. The channels get their money from charging every cable and satellite customer a few bucks a month, even though most of those customers never watch a sports channel.
The potential loss of that critical mass of customers has motivated cable and satellite providers to ask Bally and other sports channels to hold the line on costs or risk being dropped from the provider. That complicates the relationship Bally and other sports channels have with teams, which have gotten used to rights fees that go in one direction: up.
Into that challenging landscape steps Rebecca O’Sullivan-Schulte, an industry veteran who ran cable sports channels in Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. She was born in Long Beach, grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, and spoke fondly about a time when the Raiders played in the Coliseum, the Rams played in Anaheim and the grand new arena in town was “The Pond,” now called the Honda Center.
On Friday, Bally Sports announced her appointment as general manager of the three Bally channels in Southern California: Bally Sports West, Bally Sports SoCal and Bally Sports San Diego.
“I’m thrilled to be home,” she said.
Detroit broadcaster Jack Morris was suspended indefinitely Wednesday a day after making a racist comment regarding Angels star Shohei Ohtani.
We had a few questions. The interview has been condensed for publication.
Question: Bally has made clear that sports betting is the future, and with it the so-called gamification of sports broadcasts. How will local viewers experience interactivity on the channels you now run?
Answer: I definitely think creating that more dynamic, engaging viewer experience, whether that’s with the gamification, stats, recording functionality, there’s a lot of applications. I think that experience is trying to get the viewers engaged more, for a longer amount of time, and giving them the options. I know a lot of people have talked about dual-screen experiences, but having it all on one application during the game, I think, is what is really going to take it to the next level.
Q: For now, there is no sports betting in California. But why is the sports broadcasting industry in such a rush to embrace sports betting?
A: Whether it’s the betting part or not, it really is enhancing the opportunity for the individual viewer and fan to engage in a way they want to. So, if you want to do the gambling part, that’s great. If you don’t, you still have [free] gaming options. It’s really up to the individual user. But allowing them the opportunity is what I think is the important part, individualizing it for them.
Q: The Bally Sports contracts with the Clippers, Ducks and Kings — three of your four teams — expire within the next three years. How do you plan to sell them on sticking with Bally Sports rather than going out on their own, possibly in an all-streaming deal?
A: Obviously, we’d love to stay partners with them. That’s the ideal goal.
Q: So what would you tell them would be the advantage of staying with Bally Sports?
A: The advantage to staying with a channel with multiple teams is that we’ve done this for a long time. We’re really good at what we do.
Q: With four teams on two channels, would it make sense to combine Bally Sports West and Bally Sports SoCal into one channel, possibly making it easier to convince cable and satellite providers to continue carrying the channel?
A: Having three winter sports, if you put them all on one, you still have this problem where you’re always doing an alternate channel [because of scheduling conflicts]. You still end up having a second channel. I don’t know if it buys you anything not to have two full-time channels, versus constantly going to an alternate channel. Every distributor doesn’t necessarily guarantee you having an alternate channel if it’s not full-time.
Daron Sutton said his removal was “100% without incident” and unrelated to any disciplinary action. He called the majority of the Angels’ games this season.
Q: Cable and satellite providers are losing subscribers by the millions, and Dish and YouTube already do not carry Bally’s sports channels. Teams and leagues are looking at independent streaming options. In 10 years, do you believe the channels you run will still be here?
A: I certainly hope so. I think there is going to be an evolution. I don’t think the business is going anywhere.
Q: Why should a team not go out on its own and cut out the middleman?
A: That content is still there, and somebody is still going to pay for it, and somebody is still going to distribute it where the economics still make sense. I don’t think any team right now loves the idea of not having a revenue stream from a network partner. Being part of a bigger ecosystem, with multiple teams, I believe, is a better way than going solo.
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