By Sahil Patel

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is preparing to rebrand its regional Fox Sports networks in the U.S. under the banner of Bally Sports, taking the name of casino operator Bally's Corp. as sports media continues to establish closer ties with the gambling industry.

The TV-station giant has begun a marketing campaign promoting the role the regional television networks play in delivering fans live games and other sports content about their local teams and players.

Sinclair will spend more than $10 million this year on marketing the renamed Bally Sports networks, including the launch campaign as well as other programs throughout the year, according to Sinclair's chief marketing officer, John Zeigler.

It will complement that spending with promotion on other Sinclair properties, including broadcast TV stations that overlap geographically with the sports networks, the Tennis Channel, the digital sports network Stadium and the streaming service STIRR, Mr. Zeigler said. Sinclair will seek to mine its other assets to promote the new Bally Sports networks more than it did in their previous incarnations, he added.

Sinclair acquired the 21 Fox Sports-branded regional sports networks, or RSNs, from Walt Disney Co. in a 2019 deal valued at more than $10 billion. The networks collectively cover 16 National Basketball Association teams, 14 Major League Baseball teams, 12 National Hockey League teams and more than 4,500 live events a year, according to Sinclair. Bally Sports will have 19 RSNs following the rebranding, with Fox Sports Tennessee and Carolinas -- which weren't full-time channels previously -- becoming a part of what will be called Bally Sports South.

Bally's is paying Sinclair $88 million over 10 years for the naming rights, which take effect on March 31, ahead of MLB's opening day on April 1.

Media companies long resisted association with the gambling side of the sports they cover, but are making up for lost time as more states legalize sports betting in the U.S.

Casino operators and online sports-wagering and gaming services such as FanDuel and DraftKings have also been spending huge sums on advertising and sponsorships to acquire new customers.

"Numerous media companies are investing in gambling because they believe the combination of broader legalization plus advancements in technology will ensure that gambling becomes a future revenue stream," said Ross Benes, senior analyst at research firm eMarketer.

But sports networks, including RSNs, have suffered from cord-cutting and last year's disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ratings for live sports have declined across different leagues since competition resumed.

"Regional sports networks...cannot expect sports gambling to be the savior of business models under duress," Mr. Benes added. "With so many media companies looking to venture into gambling, this will create significant competition."

With Sinclair, Bally's sports-betting content, such as odds and picks, will be integrated into broadcasts. Actual sports-wagering will remain separate for now, available through the Bally's Bet platform run by the casino operator.

Sinclair also hopes to create a new media brand that will bolster its local sports coverage with additional digital content and experiences, according to Mr. Zeigler. It is hiring a team of writers, for example, to provide more coverage of teams for the networks' websites.

That editorial content will also be available on a new Bally Sports-branded app, which will include live streaming of games, other video programming and, eventually, interactive "second-screen" games meant to be played along with live sports broadcasts as they unfold.

"It's additive," Mr. Zeigler said, about offering additional content and gameplay on viewers' phones. "I can watch a game and there is inevitably going to be downtime -- a pitching change or a commercial break -- but I'm still invested in the game, and I'm also on my phone."

"This fills those micro-pauses in the action with something," he continued. "It makes the experience more lean-in."

Write to Sahil Patel at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

03-18-21 0644ET