Sinclair will sell WPIX New York and WGN Chicago — as well as KSWB San Diego to smooth the way for its purchase of Tribune’s stations, the station group says in a filing. But the stations will remain in the Sinclair orbit. A footnote to the filing says Sinclair “will enter into an option and services agreement(s)” with the buyer or buyers of the stations. In addition, it will spin off one of the two top-four stations it would own post-merger in seven markets — Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma, Grand Rapids, Richmond and Des Moines.
To win regulatory approval of its acquisition of Tribune Media, Sinclair is planning to spin off two of the biggest stations in the Tribune portfolio — WPIX New York and WGN Chicago — as well as KSWB San Diego, according to Sinclair’s latest FCC filing on the deal.
Those spins are being made to comply with the FCC’s national ownership cap.
According to the filing, Sinclair has buyers for WPIX and WGN, but not San Diego. The filing does not identify the buyers, but it looks as if Sinclair will retain some control over them. A footnote to the filing says Sinclair “will enter into an option and services agreement(s)” with the buyer or buyers of the stations.”
For years, Sinclair has used such “sidecar” deals to circumvent the FCC ownership rules.
One possible buyer for the stations is Armstrong Williams, who owns several Sinclair sidecars through his Howard Stirk Holdings. He declined to comment when contacted by TVNewsCheck.
And to comply with the FCC local ownership limits, Sinclair will spin off one of the two top-four stations it would own in seven markets — Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma, Grand Rapids, Richmond, Va., and Des Moines, Iowa, the filing says.
Some of these stations may to Fox, which has been negotiating to acquire Fox affiliates from Sinclair-Tribune, according to multiple sources.
That Sinclair is going ahead with the local spinoffs in the seven markets suggests that it failed to persuade the Justice Department to relax its antitrust guidelines to permit Sinclair to own two major stations in those markets.
However, the filing says, Sinclair will make a case at the FCC for keeping two top four stations in Greensboro-High Point, N.C.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Indianapolis. That suggests that Justice has given its blessing for duopolies in Greensboro and Harrisburg. Indianapolis was never an issue for Justice.
If the FCC requires Sinclair to spin off one of the two top four stations in Greensboro — either Sinclair’s ABC affiliate (WXLV) or Tribune’s Fox affiliate (WGHP) in Greensboro — it will hang onto Sinclair’s MNT affiliate (WMYV) there. If allowed to keep the ABC-Fox combo, it will sell the MNT affiliate.
The filing says that it will place in a “divestiture trust” all the stations in Greensboro, Harrisburg and Indianapolis so that it can close the Tribune deal before final rulings from the FCC on the three markets. It will sell or keep stations in the markets in accordance with the FCC rulings.
Under new rules adopted earlier this year, the FCC will consider permitting common ownership of two top-four stations — typically two Big Four network affiliated stations — in the same market if a strong case can be made for it.