Explain Yourself, Bally Sports

If you're going to do a major re-branding, it's probably a good idea to actually tell users about it.

While perusing an assortment of out-of-town baseball games on the MLB app earlier this month, I found myself quite confused. In multiple markets, games were being broadcast by regional sports channels I’d never heard of before, all with “Bally Sports” in their name. A bit of research led me to the Bally Sports wikipedia page, which included this information.

The Bally Sports Regional Networks are a group of regional sports networks in the United States owned by Diamond Sports Group, a joint-venture company of the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Entertainment Studios.…The networks were formerly known as Fox Sports Networks and operated by News Corporation for most of their existence. They were acquired by Diamond Sports from The Walt Disney Company in 2019, as Disney was required to divest them by the U.S. Department of Justice as a condition of their own acquisition of 21st Century Fox.

My confusion was a result of the fact that Bally Sports is a brand-new entity, one which came into existence less than a month ago, on March 31, 2021. In years past, these games had all been broadcast on Fox Sports channels, but that much more established name was now gone. In its place were channels like “Bally Spots West” and “Bally Sports Sun”.

More recently, I noticed an even more confusing change on iOS. Specifically, a new app was appearing in my updates:

The Bally Sports app, in the iOS App Store

I’ve never downloaded a Bally Sports app, and yet I was being offered an update to one. If I had auto-updates turned on, things would’ve been even worse, as my phone would have suddenly sported a new app I’d never consciously downloaded.

That icon is what really caught my eye though. It’s attempting to do a whole lot of work, and none of it successfully. Here’s a closer look:

A Bally Sports logo peeling back, with a Fox Sports logo slightly visible underneath.

Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize the Fox logo underneath there. Still, even knowing that Fox Sports is now Bally Sports, it’s not really clear what’s happening here. It almost seems like Bally Sports is becoming Fox Sports, rather than the reverse. This was a clever idea for some designer to try, but the execution fails utterly. It’s either unrecognizable, or it’s conveying the wrong message.

Meanwhile, there’s no text explanation of the change whatsoever. The app’s update text could easily include a simple line like “Fox Sports Go is now Bally Sports”, but as you can see above, it doesn’t. The app’s description also fails to mention Fox Sports Go. Finally, the first run of the application makes no reference to the change either. Explanations in any of these places (or all of them) would be far easier to understand than a too clever by half modified icon, and yet the app’s developers somehow failed to include them.

Amusingly, the App Store screenshots do provide a tiny hint about the change, as they still show the “Fox Sports Go” logo. However, this is undoubtedly an oversight, rather than an effort to inform users.

App screenshots from the App Store, still showing the Fox Sports Go logo

Ultimately, I’m betting a whole lot of people will wind up wondering how the hell the “Bally Sports” app got on their phone. They’ll worry that their phone has been hacked, and they’re likely to delete the app entirely, all for want of a few simple words of explanation.

The capper on this is it’s probably going to happen again in the future. When I first read about the new “Bally Sports”, I assumed Bally’s owned a stake in the eponymous sports networks. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, their involvement appears to be limited to the $85 million they forked over for naming rights. That deal with Sinclair runs for a decade, so perhaps we can look forward to similar confusion in 2031, when Sinclair sells the naming rights to some other entity entirely.