March 4, 2024

An overview of the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns at the Phoenix Suns Arena on July 8, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Arizona’s professional men’s and women’s basketball teams are taking off on the regional sports network stage.

NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury reach deal with radio station owner gray tv Air the entire regular season on local broadcast networks available throughout Arizona.

Local networks are available to pay-TV subscribers as well as those who choose to watch for free with an antenna. The teams also signed a deal with private video technology company Kiswe to launch their own direct-to-consumer streaming service.

The deal marks a pivotal moment when professional sports teams exit the regional sports business and bring the regular season back to fans on local television.

Suns and Mercury owner Matt Ishbia said in an email: “I am very pleased to tell you that we have finalized and signed an agreement that is great for our organization, our fans and our It’s definitely a game changer in terms of how the future of the game develops.” Executive, Viewed by CNBC. “In addition to being the first modern transaction statewide to be conducted exclusively wirelessly, we have partnered with Kiswe to develop our own DTC product.”

Part of what makes the deal possible is that the Suns and Mercury have their own in-house production as well as commercial sales teams, which will help ease the transition from their RSNs.

Previously, Diamond Sports’ Bally Sports Arizona channel offered the Suns regular season games. Diamond filed for bankruptcy protection in March.

Starting next season, the Suns will no longer appear online. The Suns, who reached the second round of this year’s NBA playoffs, are considered serious contenders to win their first league title.

Bally Sports Arizona also broadcasts the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks regular season games.Diamond Sports skip entitlement payment Diamondbacks, fighting to secure its streaming rights before filing for bankruptcy. While the fight was on the courts, Diamondbacks games were still being broadcast online.

The RSN business model has long been lucrative for leagues and teams, as networks pay big bucks for the rights to games that don’t air nationally.

Financial terms of the Suns and Mercury trades for Gray and Kiswe were not disclosed. Collectively, Gray and Keysway will lead the Suns for five years, while the deal with three-time WNBA champion Mercury will last two years.

Regional sports networks are generally under pressure as customers cut pay-TV subscriptions and opt for streaming. Networks, including Bally Sports, have been rolling out streaming options at prices many consumers are reluctant to accept, but are unlikely to upend the long-standing RSN business model.

U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury speaks during a news conference at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, April 27, 2023.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Through the new agreement, the Suns and Mercury games will be served to nearly 2.8 million Arizona households, which the teams say is three times the number of households they currently reach. Once Gray rolls out in Yuma this summer, those teams will be able to reach every home in Arizona.

“If you go back to the 1980s and 90s, there was no RSN. These professional games were on local TV,” said Pat LaPlatney, co-chief executive of Gray Television. “This gives the Suns and Mercury a really broad distribution platform. It will make TV commercials and game promotions more valuable because the games will reach more people.”

With the start of the WNBA season in a few weeks, Mercury games will already be available on local networks and on Kiswe’s streaming service. Mercury games will be offered free of charge through a streaming option to expand the team’s fan base.

The first two Mercury games will be broadcast nationwide on ESPN, as it marked the return of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was jailed in Russia last year on drug charges. She was released in December.

The Mercury games will air on local TV stations in Phoenix and Tucson, reaching more than 95 percent of the state’s TV households, and will join Yuma in the summer.

However, executives said next season’s Suns games won’t be free on the streaming service, but will be priced more affordable than other RSN streaming services. This year, MSG Networks, which broadcasts games from the New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabers and New Jersey Devils, said it will offer MSG+ for $29.99 per month. The New York Yankees’ YES Network is charging $24.99 a month for its new streaming service.

“Our absolute intent is to align from a price standpoint, relative to what’s in the industry today,” said Mike Schabel, Kiswe’s chief strategy officer. “I want it to be soda money, not gas money, type valuation. We’re thinking about the audience and who we want to reach.”

Pricing for the Suns streaming option is still being finalized.