The Phoenix Suns basketball team has become the first professional sports franchise to fully abandon Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports channels in favor of moving their games to a free broadcast television station.
On Friday, officials with the National Basketball Association (NBA) team announced a new agreement with Gray Television’s KTVK (Channel 3) and the newly-formed Arizona’s Family Sports and Entertainment Network, which will begin airing games played by the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury (WNBA) later this year.
The deal covers games that are not offered by a national broadcaster like ABC, ESPN or TNT, and includes post-season games from the Phoenix Mercury women’s basketball team and at least 70 regular-season games split between KTVK and sister station KPHE-LD (Channel 44). Gray Television will offer both teams’ games across Arizona as part of its exclusive, state-wide agreement, executives confirmed on Friday.
“Live sports can bring a community together; cCombining that with the power of broadcast television and Arizona’s Family, it becomes a multiplier effect benefitting the team, the fans, and the clients,” Debbie Bush, the vice president and general manager at KTVK and KPHE-LD, said in a statement. “Our goal since day one has been creating a model that provides all fans the ability to connect with and cheer on their favorite teams via the distribution method of their choice. We are confident this model will increase fan loyalty and engagement.”
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. In addition to the games airing on broadcast television, Gray says it will offer streaming access to Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury games through a direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service powered by Kiswe.
“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,” Mat Ishbia, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, said in a statement. “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.”
The Phoenix Suns games were previously offered by Sinclair’s Diamond Sports Group through its Bally Sports regional cable channels. The agreement announced on Friday marks the first time a major professional sports team has abandoned Diamond Sports since the brand declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
In a statement emailed to The Desk on Friday, a spokesperson for Diamond Sports said the deal between Gray Television and the Phoenix Suns violated its contract, and that the company was considering a lawsuit.
“The Phoenix Suns breached our contract and violated bankruptcy law, and Diamond Sports Group will pursue all remedies against any parties that attempt to exercise control over our property interests while we reorganize,” the spokesperson said. “This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights.”