With the future of regional sports networks in doubt (Warner Bros. Discovery wants to exit the company and transfer control of its RSNs to its league partners, while major RSN owner Diamond Sports Group filed for bankruptcy last month), the NBA’s Phoenix Suns have a signed a new rights deal that suggests an intriguing way forward for teams looking 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, the Mercury deal for two years.
In an email to his senior executive team that was viewed by The Hollywood ReporterMat Ishbia, majority owner of Suns and Mercury, 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 homes in the state, three times the availability of the old RSN. Games are broadcast on KTVK, KPHA and KPHE, with a minimum of 70 games between stations. Consumers who are cord cutters can access the games through the brand app.
“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 means we can change the way fans watch our games, giving them more options and access than they’ve ever had before. .”
The Suns and their WNBA counterpart, the Phoenix Mercury, were hit by the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports, 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, which limited its reach. NBA, MLB, and NHL teams benefited from lucrative TV deals that provided RSNs, but amid mounting cable breaks, the company (outside of a handful of RSNs in major markets) was tested.
For its part, MLB has a team ready to take over any RSNs should the need arise.
The Suns and Mercury’s plan shows another way forward, one that would give local TV stations a ton of live sports content (which would in turn help their local newscasts), while also giving cord cutters an option to live stream games . on their phones or smart TVs. Suns fans who want to watch games can choose to pay for a streaming service, or watch games live for free via an over-the-air antenna.
“We are the first professional team to embark on this path, leading the way and revolutionizing the way games are distributed,” Ishbia wrote in his message to staff.
“I’ve said from day one that our focus is on our fans, our community and every member of our organization and this deal ticks every box,” Ishbia added. “By going completely over the air and building our own DTC product, the Suns and Mercury will now be accessible to millions of fans in Arizona and worldwide. Success comes from new and innovative ways to invest in our players, continuing our mission to build a world-class organization both on and off the floor, and making our product available to as many people as possible.”