By Joe Flint
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s appetite for regional sports networks won't be satiated with its $9.6 billion purchase of Walt Disney Co.'s 21 channels, which closed Friday after getting the green light from the Justice Department.
In an interview, Sinclair Chief Executive Chris Ripley said the company would be interested in acquiring more properties, particularly the four regional sports outlets that AT&T Inc. owns in Seattle, Colorado, Pittsburgh and the Southwest. AT&T is looking to sell the channels, a person familiar with the matter said.
"We of course would be very interested in looking at those and filling out our regional sports network footprint," Mr. Ripley said.
The 21 channels Sinclair acquired are the Fox Sports networks of which Disney took control when it acquired the bulk of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets for $71.3 billion. Disney, which is the parent company of sports-programming juggernaut ESPN, agreed to spin off the regional channels in return for government approval of the deal.
Sinclair separately partnered with the New York Yankees to acquire the YES Network, another sports channel previously controlled by Fox, for $3.47 billion. Other partners on the YES purchase are Amazon.com Inc., private-equity firms RedBird Capital Partners LLC and Blackstone Group Inc., and Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund Mubadala Investment Co.
The YES Network sale is also expected to receive Justice Department approval and close before the end of the month, people familiar with the matter said. Sinclair's role in the YES operation will be to handle distribution for the network, a person close to the Yankees said.
Mr. Ripley said the Disney deal is "the culmination of a five-year push to get more exposure in sports." Besides the 21 networks and its YES stake, Sinclair is also launching a sports channel in Chicago in partnership with the Cubs baseball team. It also owns the Tennis Channel.
Sinclair, Mr. Ripley said, now derives 75% of its revenue from local sports and news -- which he described as "the sweet spot of where you want to be in the streaming wars."
A priority for Sinclair will be to try to negotiate a deal with satellite broadcaster Dish Network Corp., which dropped the Fox regional sports channels last month in a dispute over pricing.
Despite Sinclair's large local news operation, Mr. Ripley said there are no plans to add any nonsports related content to its newly acquired networks.
There has often been speculation that Sinclair might try to launch its own national news service. Mr. Ripley said the company's priority continues to be serving its local markets, but added he never rules anything out.
"If there was the right opportunity we might do that," he said.
Drew FitzGerald contributed to this article.