The first-of-its-kind deal will provide access to roughly 2.8 million households in Arizona, tripling the audience the Suns & Mercury reached during games broadcasted by Bally Sports.
With the future viability of the regional sports network (RSN) model — the backbone of how American professional sports teams broadcast games and programming to their fans for two decades — in serious doubt, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury announced Friday they’d be doing away with them altogether.
Arizona’s NBA and WNBA clubs forged a deal with Gray Television, Inc. and Kiswe to broadcast games for free over the air and create an upcoming direct-to-consumer streaming model for an undisclosed sum, the first teams to totally do away with an RSN (and likely not the last). KTVK (Arizona’s Family 3TV), KPHO (Arizona’s Family CBS5), and KPHE (AZ Family Sports Network) will now broadcast all local Suns and Mercury games in the Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson markets across the state.
Diamond Sports Group’s Bally Sports Arizona had been the home for local Suns games since 2003. A direct-to-consumer product will be developed over the coming months so every Suns and Mercury game can be streamed globally.
“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,” Mat Ishbia, the Suns and Mercury governor, said. “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.”
As Ishbia added exclusively to Boardroom, “The goal has always been to do right by the fans and the community. When there was an opportunity to deliver this to the Suns and Mercury organizations, to three million households instead of 600,000 to 700,000, and do it for no cost to them, it was an easy decision… That’s what the whole strategy was around and where we ended up.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group and Entertainment Studios acquired 22 Fox Sports RSNs from Disney in 2019 for $9.6 billion and formed Diamond Sports Group, rebranding its local networks as Bally Sports in 2021 in a 10-year naming rights deal with the casino operator. After failing to make a $140 million interest payment in February, Diamond Sports Group officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.
DSG is trying to operate its networks normally through the bankruptcy process but failed to make crucial rights payments to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Guardians. Diamond Sports Group is threatening to sue the Suns and Mercury, alleging the Gray and Kiswe deals breach its contract and violate bankruptcy laws.
“Cord cutters, cable subscribers, fans with an antenna – everyone will be able to watch Suns and Mercury games on Arizona’s Family,” Ishbia said. “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.”
As the governor put a bow on things exclusively to Boardroom:
“Cable subscriptions are going down in the country, and so you don’t want to have less fans watching your product. So, how do you fix that? How do you solve for that? The reality is yes, I think others will follow. I think this is the way it’s going to go in the future. We’re going to change the game a little bit.”
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