Thunder fans lost out due to Bally Sports Plus outage. Here’s how we got here

Thunder fans lost out due to Bally Sports Plus outage. Here’s how we got here

Fans who pay for Bally Sports Plus got caught up in a technical glitch and missed Monday night’s games. How did we arrive at this point? And how likely is it to happen again?

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

| Nov 1, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

Jon Hamm

By Jon Hamm

Nov 1, 2023, 12:00pm CDT

On Monday night, Thunder fans who subscribe to Bally Sports Plus were in for a rude awakening when they launched the app: every attempt to login returned a failure.

The issue was not contained to just Bally Sports Oklahoma watchers. It affected every Bally Sports Plus subscriber across the U.S. Chances are a good number of subscribers were left puzzled. Viewers with access to Bally Sports via traditional cable or satellite were unaffected.

Earlier in the day, the Bally Sports Technical Support account on X posted “Our service provider experienced a widespread outage that impacted multiple partners As it comes back online, signing in to Bally Sports will be impacted. We are currently working with our service provider on resolving this issue. We apologize and thank you for your patience.”

If you weren’t glued to X, and glued specifically to one of the various Bally Sports regional accounts, you’d have likely missed the memo. As a Bally Sports Plus subscriber, I received no email notification or explanation.

The outage lasted throughout the entirety of the Thunder vs. Pistons matchup and beyond, leaving fans frustrated far and wide. It’s the latest faceplant for the regional sports conglomerate that is fighting like hell to remain operational. As Jenni Carlson and I discussed before the season, easy access to Thunder broadcasts is not as simple as it should be, and the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings of parent company Diamond Sports Group adds to the chaos.

How did we even end up here anyway?

Remember, the Bally Sports used to be Fox Sports (not to be confused with channels like FOX, FS1 or FS2). The regional chain of networks held rights fees for several NBA, NHL, and MLB teams. In late 2017, Disney announced that it would acquire 21st Century Fox and all of its assets, a deal that would put Mickey Mouse and Homer Simpson under the same roof. And for a moment, it seemed as though the Fox Sports channels would fall under the purview of ESPN.

For all of the gripes about the Worldwide Leader, valid or otherwise, it would have been a natural fit. Perhaps there would be synergy with ESPN’s upcoming streaming product, ESPN+, which was set to replace its WatchESPN offering.

The U.S. Department of Justice had other ideas.

With concerns about one company having so much sports programming power, the DOJ forced Disney to sell the Regional Sports Networks in order to get approval to buy 21st Century Fox. It’s a flashpoint moment that kicked off a slow descent of the Regional Sports Networks.

A few ideas were floated. Fox Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch considered buying the networks back at a bargain price. Liberty Media Group and Ice Cube’s Big3 placed bids. However, rampant cord cutting and skyrocketing rights fees made the RSNs a tough sell.

In 2019 Sinclair Broadcast Group won the bidding with an offer of over $10 billion. Sinclair set up Diamond Sports Group as a subsidiary to hold the newly acquired sports networks. Fast forward a few years, and Diamond Sports Group is now suing its own parent company, alleging  that Sinclair saddled the subsidiary with massive debt and unreasonable management fees.

Meanwhile, sports fans just want to reliably watch their local sports teams.

No streaming service can claim to be bug free, and that includes Bally Sports Plus. Even if a home has a rock solid and speedy internet connection and a home wireless network free of interference, there are many points of failure between the broadcast cameras and your TV (or tablet or laptop, if you prefer). In the Internet world, the path from Paycom Center to an Oklahoma endpoint could go halfway across the United States and back.

Which makes it even more frustrating when a third party causes a break, as Bally Sports claims. Any technology solution is made up of many layers of hardware and software. Some components and services can be outsourced when it’s easier to buy than build. Reliably providing the service is likely even more difficult to pull off during a bankruptcy.

Mid-day on Tuesday, Bally Sports Tech Support issued an all-clear. “Last night our tech partner experienced an outage that prohibited Bally Sports app & website users from streaming their games. We want to assure our viewers the issue is resolved. We know many of you were unable to watch your teams and we truly apologize for the inconvenience.”

An updated Bally Sports app was available on my Apple and Roku devices. After a quick download, I was able to log in again. I was able to watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dissect the Pistons via a replay.

Technical issues are almost certain to pop up again while the Bally Sports dust clears. NBA teams seem to be stuck in the meantime, unless Diamond Sports stops paying. If there was ever an off ramp available prior to now, they never exercised it. Paying fans can only deal with it, switch to a cable or satellite provider that includes the channel, or simply give up.

Not exactly the greatest selling point.

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