Sinclair reported third quarter earnings of $448.1 million, up 47.9% from the same quarter a year ago. Operating income was $101.7 million, 39.6% better than the prior year period. Political revenues were $33.8 million versus $2.7 million in the third quarter of 2013. Local net broadcast revenues, which include local time sales and retransmission, were up 43.4% versus the third quarter of 2013, while national increased 64.2%.
Excluding political revenues, local net broadcast revenues increased 41.9% and national net broadcast revenues 22.9% in the quarter.
In September, Sinclair announced that American Sports Network entered into syndication rights agreements with 53 companies to broadcast ASN's collegiate games in non-Sinclair markets. Together with the Sinclair markets, the channel reaches over 90 million U.S. households.
"This has been an active quarter with the expansion of our sports content offerings, strengthening our station portfolio, and solidifying our network relationships," commented David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair. "We were also successful in opportunistically repurchasing 1.9 million shares of our common stock since our August earnings report, representing an approximate 9% return to our current share price. For 2014, we are on track to distribute to our shareholders, in the form of dividends paid and shares repurchased, approximately 50% of our 2014 as reported free cash flow."
Sinclair is sanguine on the fourth quarter, with net broadcast revenues expected to be up approximately $533.7 million to $536.4 million, or 39.6%-40.3% year-over-year. "Despite some political races in our markets not being as highly contested as anticipated or as many ballot issues up for vote as in prior election years, we still expect to generate a record-breaking approximate $78 million of political advertising in fourth quarter," said David Amy, executive VP and COO. "In addition, we are seeing positive ratings in some of the newly-launched network shows, as well as from our investments in college sports, local news and syndicated content."