MLB adds three former RSN executives to local media division

Major League Baseball announced this week that it has hired a trio of executives with experience at Bally Sports and AT&T SportsNet to its newly formed Local Media division. Doug Johnson was named senior vice president and executive producer of the division. Greg Pennell joins MLB as the new senior vice president of local media. Kendall Burgess has been named the division’s vice president of technical operations.

“These new hires are an important step in our preparation to address the changing landscape of MLB game distribution in light of the increasing challenges and pressure facing regional sports networks,” MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden said in a statement in the league’s press release. “The decades of experience and expertise in game production and operations that Doug, Greg and Kendall bring to Major League Baseball reinforce our commitment to providing the highest quality game television to our fans.”

Previously, Johnson spent 16 years at AT&T SportsNet, managing remote and studio productions in addition to overseeing the day-to-day and long-term programming of 250-plus annual events. He will oversee all games produced locally by MLB. Pennell comes to MLB from Bally, where he oversaw day-to-day financial operations. He will handle production operations for all local MLB telecasts, according to a league release. Burgess was also previously with Bally, where she held the same title and provided direction for Bally’s 19 RSNs as they produced more than 4,500 annual sporting events.

All three new hires will report to division chief Billy Chambers, a former FOX Sports executive who was hired by MLB a month ago to lead the newly formed division. The very creation of MLB’s new local media division reflects the turmoil currently being felt throughout the RSN industry — a model that appears to be dying fast in a content market dominated by streaming services.

Whether things escalate at this point depends on the increasingly bleak outlook for the two major companies behind the RSN model. Diamond Sports Group — the company that owns the Bally Sports RSNs that broadcast the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Guardians, Marlins, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Royals, Tigers and Twins — has less than 30 days to to pay debt settlement or default on those commitments after it recently waived more than $140 million in payments to creditors.

There is similar uncertainty about AT&T SportsNet, which is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery. Last week, WBD announced its intention to withdraw from the RSN model, leaving the broadcast status for the Astros, Rockies and Pirates uncertain. According to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, WBD gave those teams until March 31 to regain broadcast rights before the RSNs file for Chapter 7 liquidation. MLB’s Opening Day, of course, is set for on March 30.

The Mariners also broadcast games through an AT&T SportsNet affiliate, but as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times wrote last week, they are not affected by WBD’s withdrawal from the RSN business due to the fact that the team owns a majority stake in ROOT Sports Northwest network. Network president Patrick Crumb told Baker that as far as the Mariners are concerned, it’s a “stable situation” and “business as usual” for them.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has already stated that MLB has the ability and is ready to take over in-market broadcasting if it is ultimately deemed necessary. The creation of a local media department and the hiring of three experienced, senior RSN executives dovetails with Manfred’s comments about the league’s readiness to step up to broadcast responsibilities if (or when) necessary. The exact permutations of what this might look like are certainly still being debated. Rangers owner Ray Davis spoke with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News about this very topic yesterday, expressing obvious concern in the short term while also expressing optimism that the impending paradigm shift could lead to more providers streaming games and the eventual eliminating many of the blackout problems that have been the main complaints of fans for years.

Leave a Comment