Sinclair Broadcast Group is reportedly poised to buy a group of 21 Fox regional sports networks from Disney in a deal to be announced perhaps as early as this week.
Sinclair, the Hunt Valley-based broadcaster, has emerged as the front-runner in the auction for the sports networks, according to a Fox Business report.
Disney is selling the networks as part of its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox's entertainment business. To secure U.S. antitrust approval of that deal, which closed in March, Disney agreed to sell the sports networks within 90 days because of its ownership of ESPN. (Fox is keeping Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Sports and the Fox TV network.)
Sinclair, which operates the nation's largest array of local television stations, has carved out a niche in sports programming with its ownership of professional wrestling's Ring of Honor, 2016 acquisition of the Tennis Channel and involvement in the Stadium sports streaming partnership. In January, it announced plans to launch a regional sports network with the Chicago Cubs.
After its deal to acquire Tribune Media and its 42 television stations collapsed last August, analysts saw the regional sports networks as a "good fit" for Sinclair and its growth ambitions.
Sinclair officials could not be reached for comment on the reports.
Fox Business reported that Sinclair's bid for the networks was in the $10 billion range, well below the $20 billion Disney and its investment bankers hoped to secure. Other bidders include Liberty Media, led by cable magnate John Malone, and the Big3 Basketball league led by businessman and hip-hop legend Ice Cube. Major League Baseball is reportedly partnered with Liberty Media on its bid. And Ice Cube recently announced via Twitter that Magic Johnson joined his bid.
Amazon reportedly agreed to purchase the New York Yankees' regional sports network, YES, from Disney for $3.4 billion in March, taking that network out of the Disney portfolio, but with Sinclair as an investor.
Fox Business cited people close to the deal in saying a winner of the larger portfolio is likely to be announced in the coming days.
Sinclair owns more than 200 television stations in more than 100 mostly small- and mid-sized markets around the country.
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