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The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury decided to cut ties with its local cable partner Bally Sports Arizona. Bally Sports Arizona was formerly responsible for airing Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury games. Both teams have decided to go in a different direction and sign with Gray Television. Gray will air Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury regular season games locally as part of the deal. Gray Television has a reputation within the broadcasting industry for focusing on community-oriented television programming. Further, regarding sports and its relationship with cable television, cable is taking a beating as consumers transition to consuming sports on streaming platforms. For both professional sports franchises in Phoenix to take on a different television partner and align themselves with a technology media company may have set a precedent for professional sports teams in the future with their relationship with regional sports networks.
Cutting The Cord
The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury entered a partnership agreement with a video technology company called Kiswe to give viewers a personalized viewing experience. Matt Ishbia, Suns and Mercury owner expressed excitement about the deal, but he eluded to the work the two franchises are doing with their partnership.
Ishbia told CNBC Sports, “I am incredibly excited to let you know that we have finalized and signed a deal that is an absolute game changer for our organization, our fans, and the future of how we grow the game. In addition to being the first modern deal to go to exclusively over the air statewide, we are also building our own DTC product in partnership with Kiswe.”
For as much excitement and attention as this move brings toward Phoenix professional sports, it is receiving just as much legal backlash. Diamond Sports, the parent company of Bally Sports Arizona, is undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy; additionally, Diamond Sports claims that the Phoenix Suns is in breach of contract by doing business with Gray and Kiswe. Moreover, Diamond Sports is also reportedly suing Gray and Kiswe for tortious interference. Diamond Sports said, “The Phoenix Suns breached our contract and violated bankruptcy law. Diamond Sports Group will pursue all remedies against any parties that attempt to exercise control over our property interests while we reorganize. This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights.”
Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers Don’t
Diamond Sports will not relinquish one of its top revenue-generating media properties without a fight. According to a report by Sportico, the Phoenix Suns have become the eighth-most-watched NBA franchise this season due to their performance. Suns games generated over 30 thousand impressions from households. When Kevin Durant joined the team, the Sun’s impressions nearly doubled—statistically, the Phoenix Suns over delivered on ratings on the Bally Sports platform by over 25%. Given Bally Arizona’s customer base and Phoenix’s media market size, they collectively generate nearly $12 million from consumers.
Blood In The Water
Regardless of how the lawsuits play out, more professional sports teams will take the same risk as the Phoenix Suns and try partnering with new and upcoming technology media platforms. Platforms like Kiswe contribute more to the fan experience and are on the pulse of the change we are experiencing going from cable to streaming. Fans want more out of their viewing consumption of professional sports, they frankly want to be entertained, and platforms like Kiswe do just that.
They have offerings like FanFlow, where sports teams can partner with fans to create customizable videos, and Wecast, where fans can capture and share live visual content.
Ultimately If the Suns are successful with this pursuit, one of the factors that will be instrumental in Endeavor’s advisement. Given the recent UFC and WWE merger, they are leading the charge regarding diversifying in media. Media companies are only as strong as their properties and offerings. It is okay if other professional sports teams take matters into their own hands to increase their value.
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