No one likes to be the loser. And no one knows this better than sports fans. Unfortunately, fans across the country are about to be the big losers if the Trump administration approves the proposed acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group of Tribune Media Company. In fact, this merger is so bad that Chris Ruddy, CEO of conservative news network Newsmax, and I — a progressive Clinton White House Democrat — are on the same team, and we are both calling for the Trump administration to throw a flag on this deal.
That’s right, hell hath frozen over and pigs are flying overhead because Ruddy and Goodfriend agree that the Sinclair-Tribune merger would stink for everyone, especially sports fans who want nothing more than to watch their favorite local high school, college, and professional teams on television — with local sportscasters calling the plays.
The FCC and Department of Justice are just one step away from approving Sinclair Broadcasting’s acquisition of all of Tribune Media’s TV-stations, meaning Sinclair will control enough stations to reach 72 percent of all TV households in the United States.
Given Sinclair’s troubled history of sacking local sports broadcasters and replacing them with bland, stale, and reheated corporate commentary from their national East-Coast headquarters, fans all across the country can kiss their local sports programming goodbye.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: Sinclair wouldn’t really pull local sports programs and their talented staff off the air, especially the ones who have stood by fans for generations, would they? Well, if past is prologue, fans are in for a rude awakening. Just ask fans from Birmingham, Alabama, who saw Sinclair fire and replace legendary sports reporter Mike Raita, who had been with ABC affiliate WMVA since 1996.
Or maybe you should travel to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where fans saw the entire sports department at their local FOX affiliate vanish into thin air following Sinclair’s acquisition of the station. Or you could talk to fans in Rochester, New York or Washington, D.C., who saw their local favorites replaced with second string substitutes from Sinclair’s national headquarters.
Perhaps the biggest threat to sports fans from this merger is in the Windy City of Chicago, where WGN-TV has served as that city's sports broadcast network since the dawn of the television age. Chicago fans should be shaking in their cleats that Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune’s WGN-TV will spell the end for legendary broadcasters like Lauren Magiera, WGN’s first female sports anchor; Pat Tomasulo, who has been with the station for 12 years; and Dan Roan, who first joined the sports staff in 1984 and has since won multiple Emmy awards for his outstanding work.
Replacing these anchors with Sinclair’s East Coast corporate staff is like Cubs Manager Joe Maddon replacing Chicago’s 2016 world class starting rotation with five minor league depth signings — bye, world series. And after Chicago, fans in New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis are next on deck for local sports evisceration, with the rest of Tribune’s markets to follow soon thereafter.
To make matters worse, Sinclair is notorious for blacking out sports programming on certain stations entirely. For example, in August of 2015, just as the football season was beginning, Sinclair blacked out from DISH Network subscribers the local signals of 129 stations in 79 markets. Back in 2013, Sinclair blacked out from a local cable operator a station’s programming for a staggering 212 days. All of this happened before Sinclair announced its intention to buy Tribune. With that much more power over local broadcast signals in new, key markets like New York and Los Angeles, Sinclair will be empowered to behave even worse towards fans.
Why does Sinclair throw fans under the bus by blacking out games? To line their own pockets. They abuse their power to control broadcast signal carriage to demand rate hikes from cable and satellite providers, using fans as pawns in a big-money corporate showdown. Ultimately, sports fans and all cable/satellite subscribers pay higher fees.
Who knows? One of the games Sinclair chooses to black out could be the Super Bowl, not an unprecedented occurrence. Fans who pay the taxes that finance new stadiums, who stick with their teams through the best of times and the worst of times, who tune in year in and year out serve as the mere collateral damage of Sinclair’s self-serving business model. If sports fans everywhere are to get the respect they deserve, the FCC and U.S. Department of Justice must block this merger before it gains any more yardage.
Which brings me to Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, who is so concerned about your ability watch what you want, when you want, that he’s going to bat on your behalf and imploring the FCC to kill this deal.
In a recent meeting between Mr. Ruddy and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Mr. Ruddy told the chairman to nix this deal because a Sinclair-Tribune powerhouse would spur even more mergers in the mainstream media, further crowding out voices like Newsmax, in favor of even more corporate programming shoved down your throats on a daily basis. It has yet to be seen if the FCC will take Mr. Ruddy’s advice, but I for one am not taking this one lying down. Neither should you.
David Goodfriend is a Washington, D.C., lawyer and former Deputy Staff Secretary to President Bill Clinton. To read more about David Goodfriend, and his reports, Go Here Now.
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