The owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury has announced that their games will be broadcast for free on over-the-air channels and streamed online on a new direct-to-consumer service. This move sees Suns games available to a wider local audience with less certainty in what the franchise will make off the deal. Already one of the smaller local television deals in the NBA, the Suns were unsure about making a long-term deal to tie up valued television rights in light of its partner, Bally Sports Arizona, and its parent Diamond Sports Group filing for bankruptcy. Ishbia, the Suns’ new owner, is reportedly deep-pocketed and sees the move as a long-term investment. Suns and Mercury games could now be available to more than 2.8 million households throughout Arizona.
The move by the Suns is reportedly a sign of uncertainty in the business model of showing cable games. The NFL has taken an effective strategy of having most games available on national networks over the air, with a small sliver on cable and a small offering on streaming platforms. When the NBA negotiates a new national television deal starting in 2025, it could move to a similar strategy, with more games on broadcast television or streaming platforms, potentially opening up alternatives for teams to move their local television rights when their deals expire. As of now, the other complicating factors are the opaque nature of Diamond’s situation now that they’ve entered into bankruptcy and the ubiquitous nature of DTC offerings.
Fans in Denver have been caught in a yearslong dispute between local cable providers and sports team owner Stan Kroenke’s Altitude network, meaning residents have struggled to watch the Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche for years. However, it’s unlikely that the move by the Suns will result in the end of blackouts anytime soon.