The NBA’s Phoenix Suns announced Friday it will air local broadcasts of its games on over-the-air television and a direct-to-consumer streaming service, a first-of-its-kind operation that could spell the future of sports television as the industry navigates through the messy bankruptcy of one of its titans.
Beginning next regular season, all local Suns games will be available free throughout Arizona on satellite television via broadcaster Gray Television and on its new streaming app, developed by live video startup Kiswe.
The Suns are the first team in any of the four major American sports leagues to abandon cable television, a decision accelerated by the March bankruptcy of the regional broadcaster which held rights to Suns games and about half of the other NBA, MLB and NHL games.
The Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, also held by the Suns’ new billionaire owner Mat Ishbia, will also air their games on free Gray stations and via the streaming offering.
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed; the Mercury’s agreement with Gray will last two years, while the Suns’ deal is for five years.
Diamond Sports Group, parent of the Bally Sports cable network chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 15, jeopardizing the future of dozens of its pro sport team partners. The unsteadiness in local cable deals accompanies a meteoric rise in the cost of national media rights agreements, and regional sports contracts are a crucial part of revenue for teams.
The Suns are likely sacrificing millions of dollars in revenue by switching to the new broadcast model: In February, an anonymous NBA executive told the Sports Business Journal he’d expect annual revenue from local games to drop from about $35 million to $8 million by switching to a direct-to-consumer option.
Ishbia is worth $7 billion, according to Forbes’ estimates, building his fortune in the mortgage business. He agreed to buy the Mercury and Suns for $4 billion in December, the largest sum ever paid for an NBA team.