Sinclair explores selling 30% of broadcast stations

Sinclair explores selling 30% of broadcast stations

Signage stands outside the Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. headquarters in Cockeysville, Maryland, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. 

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sinclair, one of the largest owners of broadcast stations in the U.S., is looking to sell more than 30% of its footprint, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company has hired Moelis as its investment banker and has identified more than 60 stations in various regions of the U.S. that it would be willing to sell, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Sinclair owns or operates 185 TV stations in 86 markets.

The stations are a mix of affiliates including Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS and the CW. If sold together, their average revenue for 2023 and 2024 is estimated to be $1.56 billion, the people said. Sinclair is willing to sell all or some of the stations, which are in top markets like Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Pittsburgh; Austin, Texas and Fresno, Calif., among others.

Sinclair Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley said Wednesday that the company is open to offloading parts of its business, without providing specifics.

“As we’ve always stated, we have no sacred cows,” Ripley said during his company’s earnings conference call. “We want to unlock the sum of the parts valuation that we think we’re grossly undervalued for. And to the extent that asset sales makes sense in order to unlock that value and help us de-lever, then that’s something that we’d be open to as well.”

The company began officially shopping them in February, one of the people said.

Spokespeople for Sinclair and Moelis declined to comment.

Sinclair is also exploring options for its Tennis Channel, a cable TV network that features the sport and pickleball matches, the people said. Bloomberg earlier reported that development.

Broadcast TV station groups have suffered in the past five years as millions of Americans have canceled traditional pay TV. Most stations make money from so-called retransmission fees, paid on a per-subscriber rate by traditional TV distributors, such as Comcast, DirecTV, and Charter, for the right to carry the stations.

Sinclair has lost more than 70% of its market value in the last five years. The company’s market capitalization is about $975 million with an enterprise value of about $4.7 billion.

Sinclair changes

Last year, Sinclair rebranded and reorganized, splitting the company into two operating units — Local Media, which focuses on the stations, and Ventures, which houses Tennis Channel but also has the ability to act as an investment vehicle.

The split in the company divisions, and recent sale process for some of its stations, stems from tension within the Smith family, the shareholders and board directors who helped build Sinclair, some of the people said.

The stations are up for sale in the months before the 2024 election, which usually draws high political advertising revenue for broadcast TV companies. Sinclair said during its earnings on Wednesday it has pre-booked $77 million in political advertising for the second half of the year through Election Day, compared to $21 million at the same point in 2020, the last time former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden were on the ticket.

The company’s overall revenue and advertising revenue both rose slightly during the first quarter. Sinclair’s stock was up 12% on Thursday.

Sinclair’s broadcast stations have been known for having a conservative editorial voice, and the company faced backlash in 2018 after requiring some of its stations to read promos criticizing the media about “fake stories.”

Diamond woes

The process also comes after Sinclair faced headaches in the regional sports networks business.

Sinclair acquired the largest portfolio of regional sports networks from Disney in 2019 for $10.6 billion, including $8.8 billion in debt. Between ramped up cord cutting and the hefty debt load, Diamond Sports, the independently run and unconsolidated subsidiary of Sinclair, sought bankruptcy protection last year.

Diamond later sued parent Sinclair, and the litigation was settled in January. Sinclair made a $495 million payment to settle lawsuits related to Diamond.

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