ROOT Sports’ deal with Dish Network expires, leaving subscribers out of luck to watch Mariners and Kraken

Geoff Baker

Dish Network subscribers hoping to catch the final weekend of the Mariners’ unlikely playoff push are now out of luck.

Same with hockey fans hoping to watch the Kraken’s debut NHL season on Dish, or NBA lovers preparing to catch Portland Trail Blazers games. A carriage deal between the satellite provider and Mariners-owned ROOT Sports Northwest expired Thursday with no plans at all for any new contract.

AT&T Sports Networks has a minority stake in ROOT Sports and manages the regional sports network (RSN) on behalf of the majority stakeholder Mariners, including the negotiation of all carriage deals.

“The current RSN model is fundamentally broken,” Brian Neylon, Dish’s group president, said in a release. “This model requires nearly all customers to pay for RSNs when only a small percentage of customers actually watch them.”

Dish alleged that ROOT Sports and two other AT&T Sports-managed RSN entities in Denver and Pittsburgh impacted by Thursday’s move “are demanding rates that would be passed on to nearly every customer, whether they watch RSNs or not. This inequitable model has become antiquated due to the rise of a la carte viewing options and specialized streaming services.”

NESN in Massachesetts is now the only remaining RSN carried by Dish.

Dish for years has carried the Mariners on ROOT Sports and its Fox Sports Net predecessor, but industry insiders say the provider had pushed for a dramatic change to how any future deal would be structured. The development is expected to impact a six-figure number of subscribers that watch ROOT Sports via Dish, many of them in rural parts of the multi-state territory covered by the RSN.

According to one source, a renewal proposal by Dish would have seen ROOT Sports become an additional a-la-carte offering with the satellite provider charging subscribers beyond their current fees to see the network. The proposal called for Dish and the RSN entities to split revenues from those additional fees.

AT&T Sports vice president Nina Kinch confirmed her company “proposed commonly accepted, marketplace terms” for all three of the impacted RSN entities that Dish had accepted previously. But this time, she added, Dish “chose instead to drop our networks, forcing its customers to sacrifice access to their favorite regional sports teams.

“The terms proposed by Dish were not acceptable, and in fact have not been accepted by any RSN in the country.”

Both sides have known for some time the partnership would be ending barring a last-minute reversal, but were contractually barred from commenting in public. AT&T Sports’ Seattle-based president Patrick Crumb said: “We are not surprised Dish Network has chosen to deprive their customers of our regional sports networks. As each of the nation’s regional sports networks’ agreements with Dish have come up for renewal over the last several years, we have witnessed them remove each RSN from their channel lineup.”

Options locally for Dish customers wishing to pick up ROOT Sports could be switching to Comcast or DirecTV, or subscribing to a streaming service. DirecTV Stream and fuboTV have deals to carry ROOT Sports programming within various packages this coming season.

Christin Hakim

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