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by David Carlson
May 15, 2019 - Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)

What to make of the Stadium Network?

An article last month in the Washington Post focused on the up and coming Stadium network. What makes this sports network unique is that it isn't specifically a cable/satellite channel. It is carried generically as a national network on some cable systems and is available on just about every streaming and mobile viewing app including Sling TV, Fubo, Pluto, Roku, Sony Vue and others. But they are also a digital subchannel in over 80 markets and growing, available to anyone with a digital antenna on their TV. See the Post report here.

On top of this growth, Stadium's parent owner, Sinclair, just bought the 21 regional sports networks currently branded as "Fox Sports" (ie, "Fox Sports Detroit", "Fox Sports Indiana", etc). There is no word on Sinclair's plans for the networks, but a rebrand of all of them to "Stadium Sports Detroit", "Stadium Sports Indiana," etc. would make a lot of sense from a synergy aspect.

One could imagine a two-pronged goal here to expand the Stadium brand. On one hand, you have the RSNs they recently bought, which still bring in value with local pro sports contracts in larger pro level markets and can still demand some decent level of cable carriage fees.

In mid-sized and smaller markets that primarily have minor league teams though, Stadium can sell the network as a concept of a local sports destination on an OTA digital subchannel that is anchored by Stadium programming when there is no local programming on the air.

That format is very similar to how most ESPN Radio affiliates work. They distribute ESPN radio national programming most of the day, but many also have their own local shows that preempt the national shows. They might also carry live events distributed by other 3rd parties. Many are home to minor league sports teams radio broadcasts, for instance. In the same way, the local Stadium channels could carry the TV side of various local minor league and smaller college or even high school events and fill up much of the schedule with local content. Meanwhile, Sinclair has many more outlets to showcase their own national programming as well, not only on their national channel but now also their RSNs, and on the local affiliates when which are not showing local programming.

Last Week's OSC Leagues Ratings Summary:

Thursday May 9
WNBA Preseason NY vs China, 7pm (ESPNews)Not in Top 150 shows
Saturday May 11
MLS on ESPN (LA/NY), 4pm.10, 261k
Sunday May 12
MLS on FOX 2:30pm.12, 395k
MLS on FS1 7pm.06, 184k

As a comparison to the MLS/WNBA programming above, some eSports telecasts that reported ratings this past week:

Fri 11pm, ELeague on TBS.14, 341k
Sat 3pm, Overwatch League on ABC.08, 313k
Sun 1pm, Overwatch League on ABC.14, 505k

It is probably not a stretch at all here to say that eSports are outperforming MLS games overall, both in basic cable direct comparisons and OTA network TV direct comparisons. ELeague is already a staple on TBS on Friday nights. Will that expand further on TBS, maybe into prime time instead of late night on Fridays? Will ABC try more weekend events? We shall see. One could suggest it might be a better use of airtime than pushing out more MLS games at this point.

The WNBA exhibition between the New York Liberty and Team China didn't rank in the Top 150, which isn't shocking considering it was on the less-available ESPNews and was up against NBA playoff games on ESPN.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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