The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury have decided to make their games available for free through a direct-to-consumer service and via local Arizona TV stations, extending access to more than 2.8 million households compared with some 800,000 previously. The teams’ contract with Bally Sports Arizona, where their games have been shown on cable since 2003, has expired and will not be renewed. It could cost the Suns tens of millions in guaranteed money in the short term but the teams took the decision in view of a changing market and out of a desire to focus on fans, taking care of the community and winning rather than on money.
The new platform may appeal to younger viewers who did not own televisions, and it is hoped that the move will increase value in other areas, such as sponsorship deals. As existing media deals expire, other NBA, MLB and NHL teams may come under the same pressure as the Suns and Mercury, and consider leaving the cable model. New team owner Mat Ishbia views the switch as pivotal and game-changing. The teams have worked with Kiswe, a global digital platform company focused on live video, to launch an initial streaming product that will provide fans with a “truly interactive viewing experience” with unique camera angles and interactive features.
Diamond Sports Group, Bally Sports Arizona’s parent company, filed for bankruptcy in March, and it since missed a payment to the Arizona Diamondbacks that was due April 1. The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians have also missed payments from Diamond subsidiaries, leading Major League Baseball to seek to void the rights deals so the teams could take over their broadcasts. Nevertheless, Diamond Sports Group has claimed the move by the Suns and Mercury constitutes a breach of contract and violates bankruptcy law. Still, both teams remain committed to the new model and see it as a boost to winning, success and taking care of fans and the community.