AT&T Mulls Bids for Regional Sports Networks, Says CFO

John Stephens - Getty - H 2020
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"We're looking at the potential for those," John Stephens told an investors conference as an auction for four RSNs nears a possible buyer.

AT&T CFO John Stephens on Tuesday told an investors conference that an auction to sell four regional sports networks to reduce overall debt is nearing a possible buyer and conclusion.

"We have had on the market our regional sport networks and we're looking at the potential for those," Stephens told the Deutsche Bank Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference, which was set to take place in Palm Beach, Florida, but was changed to a virtual event amid virus outbreak fears.

The four RSNs up for grabs include AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain AT&T SportsNet Southwest and Root Sports Northwest. Stephens did not name any potential bidders, but likely suitors include the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which earlier acquired 21 Fox RSNs from Walt Disney, and Comcast Corp.'s NBC Sports Regional Networks.

The AT&T financial chief talked about the future of the RSNs as Stephens detailed efforts to sell non-core assets, including corporate properties, to reduce the phone giant's total debt burden after acquiring Time Warner Inc. and investing for WarnerMedia to launch the streamer HBO Max in May.

Regarding HBO Max, Stephens touted the cross-platform promotions and other benefits from driving into the streaming space. "HBO Max is not only a great tool for the HBO franchise, it's a great tool to own the customer relationship and it's a great tool for supporting our broadband business and wireless business. ... HBO Max, because of its wide application and wide attractiveness to a great number of demographics, will be really helpful," said the exec.

Stephens also discussed the impact on AT&T from the coronavirus outbreak as it spreads globally, which he insisted had been minimal until now after the wireless company introduced such measures as limiting corporate business travel, allowing employees to work from home and "deep cleaning" of its retail stores.

"I don't want to suggest we've seen anything significant at this time as we continue to talk to our suppliers," the exec added as he turned to AT&T's product supply chains.