Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins launch streaming service for local games

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes. 

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The regional sports network that airs Pittsburgh’s MLB and NHL teams is launching a direct-to-consumer streaming service, the latest to take the step as more fans cut the cord.

SportsNet Pittsburgh on Monday unveiled SNP 360, which will cost fans in its local market $17.99 a month to watch Pirates and Penguins games outside of the pay-TV bundle. Viewers with pay-TV subscriptions will also have access to the app.

The streaming offering for the Pirates and Penguins — the highest-rated NHL team in the 2023-24 regular season — comes as the regional sports network business, a key piece of the professional leagues’ media rights model, takes a hit from the shift to streaming. It also follows a shakeup at SportsNet Pittsburgh last year.

The network came under new ownership last year when Warner Bros. Discovery exited the regional sports network business, which it inherited in the 2022 merger between Warner Media and Discovery.

The network is now owned by the Pirates and Penguins. Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox, agreed to acquire a controlling stake in the Penguins in 2021. Fenway Sports Group and Delaware North, also the parent company of the Boston Bruins, own the regional sports network NESN, which manages SportsNet Pittsburgh.

“Our desire has been to reach fans wherever they are and give them options to access our clubs’ telecasts,” said NESN and SportsNet Pittsburgh CEO Sean McGrail. “There are many people now who don’t subscribe a linear TV bundle, and we wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to engage with our teams and be part of the fan base.”

Pittsburgh Penguins Left Wing Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates a first period goal with the team bench during the regular season NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs on November 20, 2021 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON.

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SNP 360 came together quickly over the last six months when NESN took over operations of the Sportsnet Pittsburgh, McGrail said. He said the network is offering the service at “an aggressive price point,” lower than the cost of most other regional sports streaming plans, while it builds up its content beyond the Pirates and Penguins.

NESN, which broadcasts Red Sox and Bruins local games, was the first regional sports network to offer a streaming alternative for its market in 2022. NESN 360 is available for $29.99 a month, or $180 for the first year on the annual plan.

Last year, the YES Network, home of the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, launched its streaming service for $24.99 a month. MSG Network, which airs New York Knicks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils games, launched a new streaming service in 2023 and charges $29.99 a month.

Regional sports networks, once a lucrative business, have been particularly squeezed as consumers opt out of the traditional pay-TV bundle in favor of streaming.

Many now offer streaming options to recapture those customers. The networks remain careful about pricing in order to avoid further disrupting the pay-TV model and breach contracts with distributors.

The contracts with pay-TV distributors help support the billions of dollars in fees that the networks pay professional sports teams to air their games.

Diamond Sports, the owner of the largest portfolio of regional sports networks, also launched streaming services for some of its teams before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2023. During the bankruptcy proceedings, Diamond has exited contracts with some teams to avoid paying high rights fees.

“It has certainly been challenging times,” said McGrail. “But those are the times that bring opportunity, and you have to actively think about your distribution strategy and how you’re going to handle distribution in the future. This addresses the needs of a certain group of people who don’t live in the linear world anymore. We’re trying to be flexible and make sure we’re supporting these fans.”

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