Looming Blackouts Leaving Hockey Fans in Limbo

In just two days time, the NHL season will get underway. Sadly, many fans might miss out on being able to watch their teams from the comfort of home.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns or operates 23 Regional Sports Networks, has not been able to reach an agreement with several TV providers. As a result, fans of these teams face the real possibility that they will not be able to watch their team when the season starts.

Setting the Scene

Back in 2019, Sinclair purchased the RSN’s off of Disney. You commonly know these RSN’s as your regional Fox Sports Networks such as Fox Sports Ohio or Fox Sports Sun (Florida).

When it came time to negotiate a new deal, an agreement could not be reached. Sinclair claimed that the prices were comparable to what the going market rate was. TV carriers claimed that prices were too high and they could not sustain that over the long haul.

This created a stalemate with both sides not budging. Caught in the middle are the fans who subscribed to different streaming services in order to A) cut cable and B) watch their favorite local teams.

YouTube TV and Hulu are two of the biggest streaming services offered and both do not carry the RSN’s necessary to watch several hockey teams. Here is a list of teams and RSN’s that are impacted by this mess.

  • Columbus Blue Jackets (Fox Sports Ohio)
  • Carolina Hurricanes (Fox Sports South and Southeast)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (Fox Sports Sun)
  • Florida Panthers (Fox Sports Florida)
  • Detroit Red Wings (Fox Sports Detroit)
  • Dallas Stars (Fox Sports Southwest)
  • Nashville Predators (Fox Sports Tennessee)
  • Arizona Coyotes (Fox Sports Arizona)
  • Los Angeles Kings (Fox Sports West)
  • Anaheim Ducks (Fox Sports Prime Ticket)
  • Minnesota Wild (Fox Sports North)
  • St Louis Blues (Fox Sports Midwest)
Vegas Golden Knights
With limited or no fans in the stands, many fans find themselves without an option to watch their local team. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Fans in these markets that have a subscription to YouTube TV or Hulu are going to have to make a decision. Do they continue with these carriers and thus not be able to watch their hockey team? Or do they switch to an option that carries one of these Sinclair stations?

As for carriers who do have Sinclair channels, most local cable companies such as Spectrum are an option. I have Spectrum at home and Fox Sports Ohio is on the regular package.

The two other main options available are DirecTV and AT&T TV Now. The downfall to these is that DirecTV requires a contract while AT&T TV Now is more expensive ($80/month to get the channel you need). With cable, there is no such contract requirement.

So imagine you are a fan of one of those listed teams above and do not have cable, DirecTV or AT&T Now. NHL.tv is not an option as they will black you out from your local team since you live in that team’s territory. NHL Center Ice is the same in regards to blackouts and are usually available on cable or satellite only.

Mark’s Take

At the end of the day, there has to be a better way to handle this. I get that there are contracts and money involved and that business decisions were made. But if I’m a fan and I find myself in this situation, I’d be very upset. I’m basically forced to buy one of a couple of options just to be able to watch my team play? Seriously? It’s not like anyone can go to the games since for the most part, fans are not permitted in the stands due to the pandemic.

Sinclair does eventually plan to roll out a system where fans can buy games and channels in order to cut out “the middle man.” Bally’s is involved with this but it’s not here yet and doesn’t help us now.

It would be nice to see the NHL come up with an idea to help fans out. They want to watch their team play. But thanks to the current environment, they can’t. Given that nothing is normal, why not come up with a plan to lift blackouts for a time especially with no fans in stands? This is a pipedream I know but it would be the least the NHL could do for fans.

I do not know what the answer is outside of switching vendors, but there has to be a better way out there somewhere. Maybe when the Bally’s thing is unveiled, it’ll be a good idea. But who knows? For now though, I feel for fans caught in the middle of this mess. This has all happened through no fault of your own. You deserve better from the league, Sinclair and the different streaming services out there.

Fan Reaction

As you could imagine, fans are displeased at what’s going on. Let me give you a sample of what some fans are going through. I think you’ll be able to relate.

Switching providers FIVE times? I don’t think Leonard is alone. This is pure insanity.

Here’s another thing that limits fans. A plan might only work on certain devices. In this case, they have to cast from their phone or connect their laptop to the TV just to watch. I’m sorry. This is way too complicated.

Several fans have reached out expressing their frustration over this mess. Some fans have switched carriers while others do not want to go back to cable or invest in satellite or a streaming service with a contract. It seems clear to me that many fans will start this season not being able to watch their team live.

Once again, fans find themselves on the short end of the stick. Hopefully there’s a better solution that comes from this down the road. But given the previous track records, I’m not holding my breath.

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