New Television Deal to Triple Available Viewership for Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury
The Phoenix Suns of the NBA and Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA have signed a new rights agreement with Gray Television that will put their home games on over-the-air television, as well as a streaming service.
That means that nearly 2.8 million Arizona households will have access to Suns and Mercury games, which is more than three-times the number of homes that had access to Bally Sports Arizona, the regional sports cable network which was the most recent rights holder. Bally Sports’ parent company is Diamond Sports Group, which filed for bankruptcy in March.
Gray Television plans to put the Suns and Mercury on KTVK and KPHO in Phoenix, and the newly launched KPHE, which is in Phoenix and expanding to Tucson and Yuma in the coming weeks. Kiswe Mobile, Inc., which first developed a streaming service and mobile app for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA in 2014, will provide the same service for the Suns and Mercury.
The Suns’ deal runs up to five years, and includes a minimum of 70 games broadcast and 40 regular season games on KTVK. The deal with the Mercury is for two years.
The Future of Regional Sports Networks
The rise of streaming services in an age of cord-cutting is putting the pressure on cable regional sports networks, which have replaced broadcast television in most television markets.
The Diamond Sports Group owns and operates 19 regional sports networks that collectively have exclusive broadcasting rights to 42 professional sports teams, including 16 NBA teams. Its bankruptcy filing hasn’t yet interrupted the broadcast of any of its scheduled games. But it points to the shift in the industry. Fewer people are paying for television packages, and some cable companies are no longer carrying the RSNs.
That means less in carriage fees for the RSNs, even though the fees they are paying to the teams for broadcast rights continues to rise.
Warner Bros. Discovery owns and operates three AT&T-branded regional sports networks, and it is actively trying to give television rights back to the sports teams it broadcasts. It says it plans to be out of the regional sports network business by the end of the 2023-2024 NBA and NHL seasons, and will exit after the 2024 Major League Baseball season.
NBC Universal currently owns and operates six RSNs that they would like to sell. But as the New York Times pointed out in a detailed article about RSNs and their collapsing future, the problem is finding a buyer.
Diamond Sports Disputes Legality
Even though the deal between the Suns and Diamond Sports expired at the conclusion of the first round of the NBA Playoffs, Diamond Sports claims that the Suns’ new deal with Gray Television is a breach of contract.
“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 company said in a statement.
The Suns responded to Diamond Sports with their own statement. “Diamond’s position is totally inaccurate,” said Suns and Mercury CEO Josh Bartelstein. “We are moving forward with this deal, and could not be more excited about what it means for our fans and our future.”
The Footprint Center, home of the Suns and Mercury, was one of the first arenas in the United States to include a sports betting facility. And now with their move back to broadcast television, the teams appear to be at the head of another curve in how Americans watch and enjoy their sports.