Phoenix Suns &Mercury Ditch Cable for Free TV

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Photo from the Phoenix Suns

By Shawn Stewart

The Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury are getting out of the Regional Sports Network business.

Both teams have reached a deal with broadcast station owner Gray Television to air the entirety of their regular seasons on local broadcast networks available throughout Arizona.

Gray Television includes KTVK (Arizona’s Family 3TV), KPHO (Arizona’s Family CBS5) and the statewide KPHE (AZ Family Sports Network), which will help the teams reach the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma media markets. The deal also includes Kiswe, an interactive video company.

The deal is “subject to the approval of the NBA and WNBA and any required resolution with the incumbent regional sports partner,” according to a press release.

The Suns were still under a contract agreement with Diamond Sports, which operates Bally Sports Arizona, through this season.

“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,” Diamond Sports said in a statement. “This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights.”

Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports that Bally has the rights to match any new TV deal.

With the new deal, the franchises expect to reach 2.8 million households, tripling the current availability by being available on traditional over-the-air TV as well as streaming.

“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,” Suns and Mercury governor Mat Ishbia said in a release.

“By going entirely over the air and building our own DTC (direct-to-cunsumer) 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.”

Subscribers to a Suns- and Mercury-branded Kiswe app will allow game streaming.

The Suns’ deal will give the team a minimum of 70 non-national exclusive games in the regular season appearing between Arizona’s Family 3TV and AZ Family Sports Network, which launched in March. At least 40 games will air on 3TV, with the remaining on AZ Family Sports Network.

“Cord cutters, cable subscribers, fans with an antenna – everyone will be able to watch Suns and Mercury games on Arizona’s Family,” Ishbia said in a release. “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 new agreement comes as the company that owns the Suns’ current regional sports network faces bankruptcy.

Diamond Sports Group, the largest owner of regional sports networks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. The move came after it missed a $140 million interest payment.

The operator in March first missed its rights fee payments to the Arizona Diamondbacks, reported John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

Diamond owns 19 networks under the Bally Sports banner, including Bally Sports Arizona, which broadcasts the Suns, D-backs and Arizona Coyotes. Those networks have the rights to 42 professional teams — 14 baseball, 16 NBA and 12 NHL.

Diamond said in a financial filing last fall it had debt of $8.67 billion. The bankruptcy filing was made in the Southern District of Texas.

You can follow Shawn Stewart on Twitter @S4AStewart and Instagram @S4AStewart

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