NBA’s Phoenix Suns sign new TV deal after broadcaster bankruptcy
With the future of regional sports networks in doubt (Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to exit the business and hand control of its RSNs to its league partners, while the largest RSN owner Diamond Sports Group filed for bankruptcy last month), the NBA’s Phoenix Suns have cut a new rights deal that suggests an intriguing path forward for teams seeking to ensure their games are accessible to fans.
The deal combines an over-the-air broadcast rights deal with local TV giant Gray Television, as well as a streaming deal with Kiswe, which will help create a Suns and Mercury-branded direct-to-consumer streaming product. The Suns deal is for five years, with the Mercury deal lasting two years.
In an email to his senior executive team which was viewed by The Hollywood Reporter, Suns and Mercury majority owner Mat Ishbia called the deals “an absolute game changer for our organization, our fans and the future of how we grow the game.”
The deals will make the games available to more than 2.8 million households in the state, triple the availability of the old RSN. Games will be broadcast on KTVK, KPHA, and KPHE, with a minimum of 70 games being broadcast between the stations. Consumers who are cord-cutters will be able to access the games through the branded app. Endeavor and WME Sports advised the Suns on the deal.
“Cord cutters, cable subscribers, fans with an antenna – everyone will be able to watch Suns and Mercury games on Arizona’s Family,” said Suns and Mercury majority owner Mat Ishbia. “Coupling that with a partnership with an industry leader like Kiswe to provide an innovative digital streaming solution allows us to transform the way fans watch our games, giving them more options and access than they’ve ever had.”
The Suns and their WNBA counterpart the Phoenix Mercury were impacted by Diamond Sports’ bankruptcy, which included Bally Sports Arizona, the RSN that had been the home channel for their games.
Bally Sports, like most RSNs, was only available on pay-TV packages, limiting its reach. NBA, MLB and NHL teams benefitted from lucrative TV deals RSNs delivered, but amid increased cord-cutting the business (outside of a handful of RSNs in huge markets) has become challenged.
MLB, for its part, has a team in place ready to take over any RSNs, should the need arise.
The plan put forth by the Suns and Mercury show another path forward, one that would give local TV stations a ton of live sports content (which in turn an help their local newscasts), while also giving cord-cutters an option to stream games live on their phones or smart TV sets. Suns fans that want to watch games can choose to pay for a streaming service, or catch games live for free via an over-the-air antenna.
“We are the first professional team to go this route, leading the way and revolutionizing the way games are distributed,” Ishbia wrote in his note to staff.
“I’ve said from day one that our focus is our fans, our community, and every member of our organization and this deal checks every box,” Ishbia added. “By going entirely over the air and building our own DTC product, the Suns and Mercury will now be accessible to millions more fans in Arizona and globally. Success comes from new and innovative ways to invest in our players, continue our mission to build a world class organization on and off the floor, and make our product available to as many people as possible.”
But before the future can arrive, sports teams will need to grapple with the realities of the present.
A Diamond Sports spokesperson told THR that “the Phoenix Suns breached our contract and violated bankruptcy law, and Diamond Sports Group will pursue all remedies against any parties that attempt to exercise control over our property interests while we reorganize.”
“This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights,” the statement continued. The Hollywood Reporter