Phoenix Suns and Mercury strike new TV deals with Gray Television and Kiswe
The GIST: Regional sports networks (RSNs) may be over in Phoenix. On Friday, the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Mercury struck deals with Gray Television and Kiswe to bring live games to 2.8M Arizona households through TV and an upcoming DTC product, becoming the first teams to formally ditch bankrupt RSN Diamond Sports Group (DSG).
The context: DSG’s Bally Sports Arizona has aired Suns games since 2003, but its deal with the franchise expired when the NBA regular season ended this April. The expiration came a month after DSG filed for bankruptcy protections — the broadcaster has attempted to run its RSNs as normal but has missed multiple media rights payments since.
The details: In the new deal, Gray’s TV channels will air Mercury and Suns games for free to millions of Arizona households, up from Bally Sports’ reach of 600K to 700K. Livestream developer Kiswe, meanwhile, will help the franchise build a brand-new DTC product to stream games globally.
- These agreements allow Phoenix to ditch set media rights payments for a smaller annual rights fee, a chunk of ad sales, and larger reach. The teams will also oversee commercial sales and production for broadcasts.
- The news didn’t sit well with DSG — it threatened legal action over Phoenix’s new deals. The broadcaster accused the franchise of breach of contract and a violation of bankruptcy laws. Drama fit for TV.
The trend: Phoenix is following in the footsteps of the NBA’s LA Clippers, who launched their ClipperVision streaming service in October, also after their RSN deal with Bally Sports expired. While a handful of Clippers games still air on local channel KTLA, CourtVision is geared towards younger, cord-cutting audiences.
Zooming out: Teams like Phoenix and LA may be pioneering the new RSN model by keeping things in-house. A DTC product taps into the existing regional fanbase while cultivating a global fanbase, as well as allowing teams to build a brand-new revenue stream and sell a fresh batch of associated inventory.
- A go-to digital platform should also help the Mercury grow its following, since women’s sports fans skew younger and more tech-savvy than their men’s sports’ counterparts. The future is now.