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Manfred says MLB will handle team broadcasts if Bally Sports defaults on payments

PHOENIX — Although the company that owns the network that shows Angels games is taking steps toward bankruptcy, Commissioner Rob Manfred said on Wednesday that Major League Baseball is working through contingency plans to broadcast the games to as many viewers as possible.

Speaking to reporters at a spring training media day in Arizona, Manfred said that if the regional sports networks like Bally Sports West miss payments to the teams whose games they carry, the teams could terminate the contracts.

In that case, MLB would take over the production of the broadcasts, selling them to various distributors and also offering them directly to fans through MLB.tv.

Currently, fans can’t buy digital subscriptions to watch games in their home markets because those are blacked out as part of MLB’s agreements with the RSN’s that pay for exclusive rights.

“You could go in and you can buy out-of-market games, like you always had, but you could also have the option to buy in-market games, something that a fan has never had before, which I see is a huge improvement for fans,” Manfred said.

All of that is several steps away, though.

Diamond Sports Group, which owns Bally Sports West and several other RSNs that broadcast the games for 14 MLB teams, on Wednesday missed about $140 million worth of interest payments. That started a 30-day grace period that could lead to filing for bankruptcy.

It’s still possible that the RSNs could make the payments to teams like the Angels, despite the bankruptcy filing, which would keep the current system in place, at least temporarily.

This is by no means an MLB-only issue, as Bally Sports networks also control the rights of 16 NBA teams (including the Clippers), 12 NHL teams (the Kings and Ducks) and four WNBA teams.

Diamond, which said as of Sept. 30 it had debt of $8.674 billion, has nearly $1 billion in rights payments, mostly to baseball teams, due in the first quarter this year.

MANFRED ON MORENO

Manfred once again endorsed Arte Moreno’s continued ownership of the Angels, as he did in a statement released the day that Moreno announced that he was ending his bid to sell the team.

“I think Arte, over a long period of time, has been a good steward for the game,” Manfred said. “He’s been a valued member of the ownership group, who’s made contributions in that group. He has put forward effort in terms of spending to make sure that he’s putting a good product on the field. He had an amazing run, a number of years where he was drawing over 3 million people. There’s a lot of success that had been had there. And I think a lot of the sort of negativity recently was a reflection back into the Angels’ (performance on the field), not a product of them doing anything inappropriate or improper.

“He had bidders, he had the option. He made the decision he wanted to own the club, and I think that’s a good thing.”

OHTANI’S SCHEDULE

Shohei Ohtani is scheduled to make his first start of spring training on March 1, an Angels home exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers. After that, Ohtani will leave for Japan to play in the World Baseball Classic.

Manager Phil Nevin said he’s been in contact with management for Team Japan and he has no doubt that Ohtani’s normal preparation to start the season for the Angels will be followed as he pitches for Japan.

Another Angels starter, Patrick Sandoval, will be pitching for Team Mexico, which is being managed by Angels infield coach Benji Gil.

NOTES

Non-roster invitee Fernando Romero, a right-hander, was the only player who was supposed to be in camp who did not make it. Romero is having visa issues, according to the Angels. …

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The Angels had a scout in attendance to see left-handeed reliever Zack Britton throw on Wednesday. Britton missed most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Although General Manager Perry Minasian said in general terms that “we are still looking to improve the club,” Angels center fielder Mike Trout said earlier in the day that he was confident the team had more moves coming. “I talked to (Nevin) and Perry yesterday and obviously they’re not done,” Trout said. …

Infielder Gio Urshela had his arbitration hearing on Wednesday. Infielder Luis Rengifo and outfielder Hunter Renfroe have already had their hearings, but Minasian said that they haven’t gotten the results of any of them yet. …

Longtime major league catcher Bob Boone was in Angels camp on Wednesday, the first of several former Angels who are expected to visit. Nevin said Darin Erstad, Chuck Finley, John Lackey, Adam Kennedy and Troy Glaus are among the other players expected to visit.

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