The best drama on local TV may be one local station.
Southfield-based Fox Sports Detroit has seen ratings for its core product, Detroit Tigers games, plunge as the team struggled to rebuild. Meanwhile, the team’s popular longtime on-air announcers were jettisoned after a fight over the summer. Oh, and the network is for sale.
And Thursday, Tigers ownership added a new wrinkle to the drama when it announced that it’s considering launching a sports network of its own to air games.
The Ilitch family-owned Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, along with the separately owned Detroit Pistons, have been on Fox Sports Detroit since 1998. If it loses those teams, odds are the network could be out of business.
Or maybe it’s just a leverage ploy by the Ilitches to extract better terms out of Fox Sports in their next broadcast rights deal. The network pays the Tigers $50 million annually to air games, and $25 million for Red Wings broadcasts.
Greg Hammaren, FSD’s senior vice president and general manager, deferred comment to Andrew Fegyveresi, senior vice president of communication at parent Fox Sports network.
“We value our long-standing relationship with the Ilitch family, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings. We look forward to continuing our relationship and providing comprehensive team coverage for years to come,” Fegyveresi said via email.
The Ilitch organization said in a statement earlier Thursday that “it is exploring the creation of a new regional sports network” to air “Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings and additional sports- and entertainment-related content.”
The Ilitches, who say their business holdings generated $3.6 billion in revenue in 2017, said the “extensive exploratory process will begin immediately, and no deadline has been set for completion.”
What that process is remains unknown. They haven’t made anyone available to answers questions beyond what was said in Thursday morning’s news release.
“Fox Sports Detroit is a great partner and we look forward to discussing renewal and extension possibilities,” Chris Granger, group president for sports and entertainment at Ilitch Holdings Inc., said in the statement. “At the same time, we have two perennially highly-rated and historic franchises, which provide compelling year-round content and programming. As such, we feel our organization is uniquely positioned to explore the launch of what we believe could be a highly successful regional sports network.”
The current Tigers/Red Wings/Pistons broadcast rights deals were jointly announced in May 2008. They were billed as a combined $1 billion over 10 years. The network and teams have declined to say when the deals started and when they end, but sources have told Crain’s that the deals end in 2021. It’s unclear if talks on extension or replacement local TV rights deals have begun.
The Tigers are expected to add tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue in their next local broadcast rights deal, perhaps even doubling their current amount, matching a trend across baseball.
Fox Sports Detroit airs almost all of the Tigers’ 162 games, and most of the Red Wings and Pistons’ 82-game seasons. Some games for each team air on national network channels.
The Pistons organization declined to comment through spokesman Kevin Grigg. The NBA team, which gets about $25 million annually from FSD, is owned by private equity billionaire Tom Gores, who bought the club for $325 million in 2011 and relocated it as a tenant alongside the Red Wings last year at new Little Caesars Arena that the Ilitches built with public and private money. Gores and the Ilitches also have a joint business entity called 313 Presents that handles entertainment bookings at Little Caesars Arena and their other venues.