The Twins on Monday announced their return to Bally Sports North for 2024 on a one-year deal. Team president and CEO Dave St. Peter spoke to The Athletic about the agreement, which he called a ‘bit of a half-loaf’ deal. It keeps the Twins with their prior broadcasting partner and clears up the immediate future, but does not grow the telecast’s reach with an expanded streaming option — something St. Peter and the organization had publicly said was a goal.
Now, St. Peter has his eye on 2025 to come through with more streaming options, and the introduction of an MLB-backed national package could power it.
He declined to specify what the Twins are being paid as a rights fee by Bally Sports North for this year. The one-year deal was approved on Friday in bankruptcy court, where the parent company of the Bally regional sports networks, Diamond Sports Group, is trying to avoid liquidation.
Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
How do you feel about the one-year deal?
There’s a benefit to the clarity of having a deal. This has been a long and winding road. And at some point, recognizing the calendar, it was important to bring closure for 2024. And for the Twins, the return to Bally Sports North is generally viewed as a positive. The people that have produced our games, sold our games, worked to distribute our games, they’re dear friends. They’ve been critical partners of the Twins for a long time, and I know they’re going to do an unbelievable job in 2024 with storytelling. And by the way, those local women and men have had nothing to do with the national challenges that their parent company has had, and all of the uncertainty that surrounds it has impacted them and their livelihood. That’s part of this narrative that probably hasn’t gotten enough play, that I think is a good thing out of today’s announcement — for those people at Bally Sports North.
That said, it’s not a perfect outcome for anyone. It’s a one-year deal for us. Some of it was in our control, much of it was out of our control. Some of it is a product of the bankruptcy system. And as we think about it from our perspective, it’s a balancing act. You balance economics, distribution and production quality, and local priorities vs. national priorities.
The disappointing news is we had said very openly that our top priority was expansion of reach of our games. We felt we were in a unique position to deliver on that, considering we were a free agent in the television world. And at the end of the day, we ended up doing a one-year deal on linear distribution only, and we recognize that leaves a growing number of our fans in a place where they’re gonna have a harder time watching our games.
For that, we feel as though it’s a bit of a half loaf. It’s clarity for ’24, but we’re not delivering on an objective that we had going into the offseason about expanding our reach, and we’ll double down on that priority for the future. And I can assure you, it will guide us in a very meaningful way toward where we land in 2025.
How confident are you that ’25 will bring something different?
One of the things that I’ve been really encouraged by is baseball’s continued focus on solutions. Commissioner (Rob) Manfred I thought was very articulate last week in continuing to outline a vision for 2025. There’s a lot of that vision that we really endorse, and are excited about. And we believe that the future of Twins television, both from a linear side, but also from a D-to-C (direct-to-consumer) side, that there is a bright future in terms of enhancing that reach. So I think we’re confident that certainly MLB provides a very solid option for us in ’25.
I don’t think it’ll be the only option. I think there will be other options based on conversations that we’ve had with Diamond and with other broadcasters. But certainly from a direct-to-consumer perspective, it’s an option that feels very appealing to us.
How do you explain to a fan why reach didn’t expand for this year?
It requires alignment. Some of that’s in our control, some of it’s not. I think about it as three legs of the stool. Maybe you could add a fourth leg in this case, but it requires an alignment between the broadcaster, the team and your league. I think we were unable to find that alignment.
Your payroll is roughly $125 million. With the TV deal done, does that mean more money can be spent on payroll?
The clarity around the economics, at least on paper, is helpful. Local television uncertainty was certainly a factor in helping us set a plan for 2024. I think it remains to be seen on how much impact the ’24 TV deal is going to have on our 2024 operations, including payroll. But as has been demonstrated I think in previous seasons, I think our ownership has always remained open-minded about ways to improve our team. Derek (Falvey) and our baseball people know that. Again, whether that be consideration of moves here in the short term, or over the course of the season, I think that those conversations will be had.
But I can’t point to a specific change in strategy. I think it’s more likely than not that the reality is that any impact from our TV deal, relative to our short-term player investments, is going to probably be limited. But that’ll ultimately be up to the market, and up to opportunities that Derek feels are good for the Twins.
How much was the drop in payroll due to the TV situation as opposed to say, attendance concerns? What’s the breakdown?
I’m not gonna get into specifics, but local media is one element of that. There are other elements that impact how you think about your budget, or as I would think of it, your business plan.
Can you elaborate on the vision Manfred has laid out for 2025?
He has a vision for aggregating a number of teams as soon as 2025, and gaining some level of scale to go to market with. There’s a lot of that that we believe in. But we also recognize there’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s still more questions maybe than answers as it relates to the evolving, kind of rapidly changing media landscape.
Is there a message you want to get across to fans?
The biggest thing is, we get it, we’re not tone-deaf. We understand the gap and feel horribly that we have, at least in the short term, been unable to address it. But we continue to focus on it, and I’m hopeful that maybe sooner vs. later we’ll be able to resolve the issue and enhance accessibility. I think it’s critical for the Twins. I think it’s critical for our industry.
(Top photo: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)