Sinclair CEO says company will expand political advertising in sports broadcasts

Jack Baer
Sinclair purchased several Fox Sports stations earlier this year. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The people who want to see less politics in sports might want to start tuning out during their team’s commercial breaks.

Christopher Ripley, the CEO of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, said in an interview with NBC News published Friday that his company will be significantly expanding the amount of political advertising on its recently acquired regional sports networks, just over a year out from the 2020 elections.

Sinclair agreed to purchase a stable of 21 regional Fox Sports networks for a reported $10 billion from Disney in May, as the latter completed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. The move gave Sinclair control of local broadcasts for dozens of sports teams, most notably the ability to dictate advertising strategies.

As Ripley indicates, that could mean plenty more political spots between innings and during timeouts.

From NBC News:

Q: Will you run political advertising on the RSNs?

A: They have had some in the past, but not nearly to the extent that local broadcasters do. We think it’s a good opportunity to expand their advertising revenue base. They have some of the best programs on TV, with the most engaged audiences, and from an advertiser perspective there’s really no reason why they shouldn't be targeting those audiences more.

That comment will be eyebrow-raising for a number of people due to Sinclair’s well-earned reputation as a right-wing media outlet that uses local news to push conservative talking points.

A video from Deadspin laying bare the process went viral last year, compiling footage of local news anchors deriding mainstream media, a widely used tactic of President Donald Trump and his supporters. Trump himself has praised the company, which has gained infamy for its “must-run” segments in which stations are forced to air commentary that often skews conservative.

So you can imagine how Sinclair suddenly having control of thousands of sports broadcasts and signaling that it plans to use them to air political ads might carry some interesting results.

For his part, Ripley said he expects RSN employess to, lacking a better phrase, stick to sports. From NBC News:

Q: ESPN has had a tricky time with staff making comments that are deemed political. Do you have any rules in place for when politics inevitably collides with sports and popular culture?

A: We have a policy for all of our employees to leave their politics at the door when it comes to content, and sports would be no different. It is always a risk in a big organization where you have lots of people creating lots of content, and we deal with that on the news side all the time. It will be no different.

We’ll see how that works out.

Which teams will see increased political ads on their broadcasts?

According to Variety at the time of the deal, Sinclair purchased 20 different RSNs from Disney. Those networks combined hold the broadcasting rights for the following teams:

Major League Baseball: Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels

National Basketball Association: Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers

National Hockey League: Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks

Several MLS and WNBA teams are also broadcast by those networks.

Additionally, Sinclair also operates the Chicago Cubs’ upcoming Marquee Sports Network and has a minority stake in the New York Yankees’ YES Network.

Simply put, no entity controls more local broadcasting rights than Sinclair right now, and that means plenty of fans are probably going to be seeing more political commercial breaks.

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