WASHINGTON – Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said it had executed agreements to sell TV stations in New York and Chicago in order to stay below media ownership limits as it absorbs Tribune Media Co. in a proposed $3.9 billion deal.
Sinclair – parent of Rhode Island’s WJAR-TV NBC 10 – said it would sell one or more stations in nine markets to comply with ownership restrictions. The pledges were delivered in revised filings posted online at the Federal Communications Commission, which is vetting the deal along with competition authorities at the Justice Department.
Sinclair in earlier filings proposed selling the crown jewels of its Tribune purchase – the Chicago and New York stations – to buyers with close ties to Sinclair. WGN in Chicago would be sold for $60 million to a Maryland executive whose car dealership is controlled by Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith. And WPIX in New York would go for $15 million to a company controlled by the estate of Smith’s mother.
Sinclair would operate each station and retain an option to buy each back, according to filings on March 1 by the Maryland-based company at the Federal Communications Commission. Critics have decried such arrangements as a way to evade ownership limits. Sinclair has said they comply with FCC rules.
The Maryland-based broadcaster in filings also sought temporary authority to hold two leading TV stations in Greensboro, N.C., and Indianapolis as it waits to hear if it can keep them, despite a rule that makes it hard to hold pairs of top-rated stations.
In the fresh filings posted online by the FCC, Sinclair said it has executed sale agreements for the stations and submitted applications for approval.
The deal as proposed in May would give Sinclair, which says its has 193 stations, an additional 42 stations in 33 more markets. The broadcaster is known for its conservative leanings – for instance, it hired Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump, as chief political analyst.
Other broadcasters trail Sinclair in number of stations. Nexstar Media Group Inc. says it has 170 stations, and Gray Television Inc. claims more than 100 stations.
Sinclair on Feb. 28 told investors it’s nearing approval and predicted the deal would close during the second quarter of this year.
Todd Shields is a Bloomberg News staff writer.