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Gray Television wants to do more sports deals

Executives say they want to forge more agreements that bring live sports broadcasts to free, over-the-air television.

Executives say they want to forge more agreements that bring live sports broadcasts to free, over-the-air television.

The logo of Gray Television set aside the skyline of Atlanta, where the company is headquartered.
(Logo courtesy Gray Television, Graphic by The Desk)

Gray Television is actively holding discussions with professional sports leagues and teams in an effort to forge more broadcast deals, executives affirmed on a conference call last Friday.

The statement was made after Gray Television released its financial earnings report, which showed the local television owner earned $813 million in broadcast and production revenue during its second financial quarter that ended June 30. The figure was about 6 percent less than what Gray Television earned during the same period in 2022.

During the quarter, Gray Television announced it had signed a local telecast agreement to bring games from the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury professional basketball teams to free, over-the-air television. The announcement triggered a legal challenge from Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports subsidiary, Diamond Sports, which ultimately proved to be pointless.

The deal gives Gray Television the rights to offer games from the two sports franchises on two of its over-the-air television stations in the Phoenix Market — KTVK (Channel 3) and KPHE-LD (Channel 44) — and in other parts of Arizona through the newly-formed Arizona’s Family Sports and Entertainment Network. Another company, Kiswe, is partnering with Gray to build a direct-to-consumer streaming service that will be offered to fans at a premium.

“Our discussions with other teams and leagues indicate that the new sports rights deal we have in Arizona can work in other markets as well,” Pat LaPlatney, Gray Television’s president and chief executive, said on Friday. “Whether we replicate that structure or find new ways to partner with professional franchises, we see a growing recognition in the market at returning professional sports to local broadcast stations will increase marketing value, advertising sales revenues, fan engagement as well as team value.”

LaPlatney predicted Gray Television would have more sports deals to announce “in the coming months.”

Gray Television also revealed itself to be a partner with Nexstar Media Group’s CW Network to bring live Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) games to free broadcast television, though the extent of the partnership was not immediately clear. Gray Television operates more than 70 full- and low-power CW Network outlets, some of which offer programming on a secondary digital sub-channel of a main network affiliate.

While Gray Television is focused on forging sports deals in markets where it has one or more independent stations — those not affiliated with one of the four major networks — LaPlatney said the company is also looking to move some live sports onto its digital sub-channels, many of which are also offered on cable platforms.

“It’s going to vary by market, but particularly in larger markets where we do have independents, which include Phoenix, Atlanta, Portland, we have two signals in Cleveland,” LaPlatney affirmed. “There are great opportunities, and there should be great opportunities in those markets.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article claimed a federal judge overseeing the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case involving Diamond Sports had rejected a legal challenge over Gray Television’s agreement to air Phoenix Suns and Mercury Games. The judge initially upheld Diamond Sports’ right of first refusal with respect to a contract concerning the Phoenix Suns games.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).