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Suns to open TV and streaming to much wider, non-cable audience

Suns, Mercury to broadcast games on local channels and new streaming service

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Hallelujah!! Finally, the state of Arizona is getting their Phoenix Suns access back.

Today the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury announced a new media rights deal with Gray Television, Inc., the owners of KTVK (Arizona’s Family 3TV), KPHO (Arizona’s Family CBS5), the statewide KPHE (AZ Family Sports Network, channel 44 in Phoenix) who serve the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma media market. These channels are accessible for free to local residents who have digital TV receiver, and come in HD as well. All free.

3TV will broadcast at least 40 Suns games to Arizona residents a year, with the rest being broadcast on channel 44. At least 70 games a year will be shown through these channels. The only exceptions will be the few broadcasts that ESPN/ABC/TNT have exclusive rights to air.

The teams’ contract with Bally Sports Arizona, where their games have been shown on cable since 2003, is expiring at the end of this season. The shift to streaming and free TV could cost the Suns tens of millions in guaranteed money per year in the short term, but it will boost the number of households the games are available in from around 800,000 to more than 2.8 million, according to the team.

“Cord cutters, cable subscribers, fans with an antenna – everyone will be able to watch Suns and Mercury games on Arizona’s Family,” said new Phoenix Suns and Mercury Governor Mat Ishbia in a release.

This is an incredible development, Suns fans. As a fan of the Suns for more than 40 years, I always miss the days of being able to catch Suns game on a free local channel (45 or 9) without having to pay stupid money for it. Now that’s back.

They’re adding a custom branded streaming service too, through a company called Kiswe.

“Coupling that with a partnership with an industry leader like Kiswe,” Ishbia continues. “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.”

With Kiswe, fans can access all Suns and Mercury games through a DTC streaming option alongside the over-the-air broadcast product. Subscribers will be able to access the DTC streaming through a Suns or Mercury branded app on their smartphones or Smart TVs, with Mercury’s DTC streaming available for free this season.

“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,” Ishbia says. “By going entirely over the air and building our own DTC 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.”

For years, and most painfully during this resurgence as a contender, an incredibly low number of Arizona residents have been denied access to watch the longest-tenured pro sports franchise play exciting basketball.

Due to a long-term lucrative partnership with regional sports network Bally Sports Arizona, formerly Fox Sports Arizona, the TV broadcasts of Suns games have been accessible only to those Arizona residents who subscribe to old school cable TV. Even worse, they made you get the extra ‘Sports Package’ on top of basic cable to see the Suns on Bally.

That means you either pay something like $100 a month (basic cable + sports package on Cox), and even more if you want to record the games on DVR, or you simply just don’t get to watch games. Even online streaming services were cut out! Fans without cable or tickets to the game had to consume the Suns via snippets on social media.

Making matters even worse, local fans couldn’t even use the NBA League Pass option, which, by the way, will be unaffected by this new partnership. Fans outside the local region will still get to watch the Suns on League Pass like they always have.

Per the Suns, the new media rights agreement is subject to the approval of the NBA and WNBA and any required resolution with the incumbent regional sports partner.

The Suns are the first to really break new ground here. Bally Sports Arizona is one of the large group of Regional Sports Networks that have rights to local broadcasting of nearly all NBA teams. The gotta-have-cable RSNs have had a chokehold on fans all over the country, but are facing financial difficulties with their business model because cable subscriptions keep declining anyway. The Suns are the first to officially break free of it.

Diamond Sports Group, Bally Sports Arizona’s parent company, filed for bankruptcy in March. Per ESPN, the network 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. The Suns apparently received all their payments from Diamond before their contract expired at the end of the first round.

Diamond is apparently unhappy with the Suns and Mercury decision to go their separate ways, even as their contract ends.

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

Said Bartelstein in a statement: “Diamond’s position is totally inaccurate. We are moving forward with this deal and could not be more excited about what it means for our fans and our future.”

The Suns are the first in the NBA, but won’t be the last.

“We need to reimagine these relationships,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said about regional sports networks on “The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast” last week. “In terms of the fundamentals of the business, everyone sees what’s happening in the television market. You’ve had a dramatic decline in the number of television homes.”

This is a great day for Suns and Mercury fans!

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