Carlson: So very 2020 — Thunder games are only on TV but carrier options are limited
There is only one way to see Thunder games this season.
Since fans won’t be allowed in the arena, for now anyway, you can only watch games on TV. And since the Thunder currently has no national TV games scheduled this season — an NBA TV game scheduled for January will be blacked out in Oklahoma — you can only watch it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
That may be a problem for you.
It is for me. More on that in a minute.
Over the past couple of years, several carriers dropped the Fox Regional Sports Networks, including Dish and SlingTV last year and Hulu Live TV and YouTubeTV in recent months. There are way more carriers that don’t have any of the 20-plus networks under the Fox RSNs umbrella than carriers that do.
Carriers are at odds with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the Fox RSNs. Sinclair has contracts with all of its carriers, and when the two sides don’t agree how much the carriers should pay Sinclair for the right to broadcast those channels, they are dropped from the channel lineup.
It has left lots of us scrambling to figure out how to see the Thunder.
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You might remember that I had this conundrum a year ago. My family cut the cord a couple years ago and went with the streaming service Sling. We picked it in large part because it had Fox Oklahoma, and because of my job, I needed to be able to watch Thunder games.
Then sometime in the summer or early fall of 2019, I noticed Fox Oklahoma and the other regional Fox channels had disappeared from the lineup. During the Thunder’s preseason slate last season, we left Sling for YouTubeTV.
But now, Fox Oklahoma isn’t available on YouTubeTV either.
What to do?
Right now, I have decided to wait a minute before looking elsewhere.
The only carriers in the Oklahoma City area currently with Fox Oklahoma are Cox, DirecTV and AT&T TV NOW. (Word to the wise: you can’t get Thunder games on NBA League Pass in Oklahoma; the Thunder games get blacked out here.) While I could make the shift to AT&T’s streaming option, I want to see if maybe a couple of the streaming carriers get deals done with Sinclair.
Why might that happen?
For starters, the carriers could be slow playing a deal because the Fox RSNs' main sports — NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball — are all idle right now. And with the pandemic hitting everyone’s bottom line, maybe this is a chance to save a few bucks by not having to pay Sinclair over these past few months.
Secondly, a couple of the streaming carriers have strong ties to sports.
YouTubeTV has paid handsomely to be “the presenting sponsor” for the NBA Finals. The carrier signed a multi-year deal in 2018, so its brand has been all over the NBA’s biggest event the past couple years.
Would YouTubeTV go forward with a bunch of its NBA markets in the dark?
Hulu Live TV is even more entrenched in sports. It built its marketing all around games, doing lots of ads with lots of athletes touting the premise “Hulu has live sports.”
Would Hulu go without hundreds of NBA, NHL and MLB games?
Lastly, Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley said on a conference call with financial analysts late last month that the Fox RSNs will eventually be offered via stand-alone subscription. Customers will be able to pay to get the channels without paying a cable, satellite or streaming service.
"It will happen next year," Ripley said.
That means it won't happen before the NBA opens its regular season on Dec. 22, though. It's hard to say, too, if an 11th-hour deal will get done between Sinclair and some of these carriers, but I’m willing to wait a couple more weeks and see.
That might mean missing a couple of the Thunder’s preseason games — the first one on Saturday will be available only through the Thunder’s app and website — and that would be a bummer. The Thunder has so many new players and so many big questions, I want to see these guys play.
It stinks that, at a time the only way to see the Thunder is on TV, the number of TV options would be severely limited.
Just one more thing that is so very 2020.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
Want to make sure you can see Thunder games on TV this season?
Fox Regional Sports Networks has a website that makes it easy to see what carriers in your area have its affiliates. Go to getmyhometeams.com, punch in your zip code and you will get a list of carriers providing Fox Oklahoma, which carries the Thunder.
The list will include cable, satellite and streaming providers.