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Tigers, Ilitch Holdings exploring creation of their own regional sports network

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There are some interesting possibilities, but this is most likely just a negotiating ploy.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers issued a press release on Thursday morning announcing that the sports and entertainment arm of the Ilitch organization has begun exploring the creation of their own regional sports network (RSN). The proposed venture would be anchored by broadcast rights to the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, both Ilitch Holdings properties, as well as other sports and entertainment content to be determined.

Currently, FOX Sports Detroit owns the television broadcast rights for both franchises. Those deals are expected to expire sometime in the next few years — details on these contracts are often hard to come by — so this won’t happen immediately even if the Ilitch family ultimately decides to go through with it. For now, this is simply an expression of interest in exploring the idea. They may be seriously interested in such a move, or this may be part of negotiations over potential new contracts with FOX Sports Detroit.

Chris Granger, Group President, Sports and Entertainment at Ilitch Holdings, Inc. has the key quote in the press release.

“FOX Sports Detroit is a great partner and we look forward to discussing renewal and extension possibilities. At the same time, we have two perennially highly-rated and historic franchises, which provide compelling year-round content and programming. As such, we feel our organization is uniquely positioned to explore the launch of what we believe could be a highly successful regional sports network.”

The interest in creating their own regional sports network comes amid turbulent times for 21st Century FOX after its acquisition by Disney this summer. As part of the deal, Disney was forced to divest themselves of 22 regional sports networks under the Fox Regional Sports Networks division due to antitrust concerns. Disney is currently working on the sale of those networks with various interested parties. FOX Sports Detroit’s future ownership is unclear right now as a result. That uncertainty may lend more credence to the idea that the Ilitch family’s interest in creating their own network is sincere. And, as Lynn Henning of The Detroit News mused early on Thursday morning, the interest may be another signal that the Ilitch organization has no plans to sell either of their sports franchises.

However, such a network would require a major investment of time and resources. They would have to create a broadcast company out of whole cloth. We have seen other companies invest in their own RSNs recently; Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the holding company that owns the Denver Nuggest and Colorado Avalanche, created Altitude Sports and Entertainment in 2004. The network broadcasts games for both teams, and also holds broadcast rights for Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, as well as other area professional sports teams.

For now, Ilitch interest is probably best viewed as part of negotiations for the next series of contracts with their current broadcast partners, as Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business suggests. We’ll see if it goes any further.