It will be easy to find the Milwaukee Bucks on your TVs to start the season; their opener in Boston will air on TNT and their Dec. 25 home opener against Golden State will show up on ABC.
But what happens after that?
With fans barred from Fiserv Forum to start the 2020-21 season and big get-togethers or visits to bars continuing as a fraught choice in the midst of a global pandemic, Bucks followers might be frustrated at the lack of options to see the team compete on Fox Sports Wisconsin.
The Fox Regional Sports Networks (frequently abbreviated as RSNs, and including Fox Sports Wisconsin) used to be easy to find on such services as YouTubeTV or Hulu+Live TV, but those services have dropped the RSNs (which are owned by Sinclair, not Fox) in recent months.
Here’s what’s going on.
‘Cord cutting’ takes a turn
We’ve said before that the “cord cutting” landscape is subject to frequent change, and that’s certainly been the case.
Sinclair acquired the RSNs from Disney in August 2019 for $9.6 billion (all part of a massive Fox/Disney merger), and “over-the-top” services – plans to get a bunch of channels without a massive monthly payment for cable or satellite – have been steadily dropping the RSNs from their lineups.
Sling TV and Dish Network dropped the channels in July 2019. FuboTV did it in January. Then, YouTubeTV did the same thing Oct. 1. Local sports fans may not have noticed with the Brewers regular season and Bucks postseason wrapped. Then, Hulu+Live TV followed suit later in October.
Are there any options left?
Pretty much just the standard fallbacks of cable or satellite (but not Dish Network).
On local Spectrum cable, Fox Sports Wisconsin is offered in the “Select” tier, which is $45 per month, but only for the first 12 months and only when bundled with other services. For an additional $30 per month, you can upgrade to “Silver,” which upgrades from 168 to 245 channels (and, of course, also includes Fox Sports Wisconsin).
The AT&T Now service, essentially the over-the-top streaming option partnered with AT&T or DirecTV, says it offers the regional sports channel starting in its choice package for $65 per month, but that’s for 12 months only and there’s a regional sports fee up to $8.49 a month. The package elevates to $110 per month after the introductory rate.
One of the top teams in the league, the Bucks will surely see a ton of games broadcast on national outlets. Milwaukee’s fourth game of the season, Dec. 29 at Miami, is also scheduled to air on TNT, and the follow-up in Miami one night later will air on NBATV (several services offer NBATV, including YouTubeTV and Sling).
Additional games will air on NBATV, ESPN and TNT throughout the year, and at least one more game on ABC.
But that’s obviously not comforting to the fan who wants to watch every game and doesn’t want to subscribe to cable or satellite.
Fox Sports Wisconsin is available on DIRECTV (Channel 669); Spectrum in Milwaukee (31 or 1309), Green Bay (40) and Racine (31); or Charter (29 or 663).
Will anything change in the future?
The Sinclair/RSN saga is one with several twists and turns. As always with the television landscape, it’s impossible to forecast how this will shake out in the next six months to a year, let alone beyond.
Sinclair has announced it’s partnering with Bally’s and working on its own over-the-top service to directly offer its content to consumers, which would be the perfect solution for sports fans. But that’s still in the planning stages, and it’s a tricky needle to thread. It sounds to be months away at best.
The Bally’s arrangement should mean the RSNs are finally rebranded in 2021 as something other than the Fox Sports banner, which is no doubt confusing to consumers who still presume the channels have a relationship with parent Fox. The relationship with a casino operator and highly integrating sports betting will add a new wrinkle to the landscape.