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New Bally Sports platform will expand access to games, for a fee

Finally, a solution is at hand for those who want Bally Sports North programming but are stuck in a contract with a TV carrier that doesn't offer the channel. The September launch of Bally Sports Plus will allow a direct subscription to the channel.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild
A general view of Xcel Energy Center before the May 2, 2022 game between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues in game one of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS – We are a generation past the days of fumbling through the radio dial trying to find a fuzzy far-off signal for the broadcast of the Minnesota Gophers game while on vacation. Still, the new world of cable, satellite and streaming services, and their seemingly constantly changing programming offerings, means that for some viewers, trying to find their local teams on TV has become more of a challenge.

Starting in late September, Bally Sports North will offer a subscription solution that they expect will put most of those challenges in the past. On Sept. 26, Bally Sports Plus launches, giving viewers direct access to NBA, NHL and college sports.

“We’re really excited. It’s an opportunity for us to really give consumers more choice on how they access their games,” said Mike Dimond, senior vice president and general manager for BSN. “It’s about reaching people who either have never had access to Bally Sports or who have lost access in some way through their providers – Hulu and Dish Network and so forth … They can access the games now and they can do it on a direct-to-consumer basis.”

There have been myriad complaints in recent years as carriers like Hulu, Dish Network, YouTube TV and others dropped the regional sports networks from their packages. While DirecTV still carried Bally Sports North, many fans of the Gophers, Wild and Wolves have been stuck without access if they are in long-term contracts with a carrier that no longer offers regional sports.

The launch of Bally Sports Plus means that for $19.99 per month or $189.99 per year, consumers can buy direct access to BSN programming to stream on a smartphone, tablet or smart TV. Diamond noted their programming will include NBA, NHL and college sports at launch. There is not currently an agreement in place to carry Major League Baseball on the new app, but they are hopeful that something can be worked out by the start of the 2023 Twins season.

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Temporary snowbird solution

While the Bally Sports Plus app is tailored to be used in a subscriber's home market, there are some benefits for short-term travelers.

Imagine sitting by a pool in Florida or Arizona, in the dead of winter, and watching that night’s Wild game on your iPad. That scenario is possible, at least for a month, with the new app. Everything that is available on Bally Sports North’s linear channel will be available on the Bally Sports Plus app on an unlimited basis to those in the channel’s normal coverage area (Minnesota and the Dakotas, primarily).

“Let’s say you’re a snowbird and you jet away to Florida in the winter. You will be able to access (local programming) for 30 days. That’s a pretty industry standard if you take your device with you,” Dimond said. “On day 31, that device has to come back into this market, and then it resets and you get another 30 days.”

For long-term, out-of-market access to NHL and NBA games, packages like NHL Center Ice and NBA League Pass are available for purchase to give buyers access to nearly all hockey and baseball games.

Good for the Gophers

In the 1990s, things were more simple for college hockey fans in the Twin Cities. The Gophers played on Friday and Saturday nights, and Midwest Sports Channel carried virtually every game. With the move from the now-defunct WCHA to the Big Ten a decade ago, that was no longer the case. Bally Sports North still carries several Gopher games, but many of the conference contests air on Big Ten Network. And for those whose carriers have made programming changes, it’s hard to find the Gophers on TV sometimes. The new app is seen as a solution.

“That’s the perfect example of the audience that we’re trying to reach, trying to serve and give them a choice now,” Diamond said. “We’re still believers in the cable and satellite bundle and we have great partners on a broad basis. But there are others like YouTube and Hulu who have chosen not to carry Bally Sports North and this provides an opportunity for those subscribers to directly access those games.”

HDM 2022.jpg
Players and coaches from Minnesota State University, Mankato, gathered at Vetter Stone Amphitheater to announce the schedule for Hockey Day Minnesota 2022, which Mankato will host for the first time. Contributed / Bally Sports North

In addition to NBA, NHL and college games, the new app will carry hunting and outdoors shows, poker and other programming that is popular with some viewers. Dimond also noted that all of BSN’s coverage of the annual Hockey Day Minnesota will be available to stream via Bally Sports Plus.

With this week’s release of the Big Ten hockey schedule, they expect that the full Gopher hockey broadcast schedule for the 2022-23 season on both Big Ten Network and Bally Sports North will be announced in the coming weeks.

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Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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