Suns, Mercury unveil local media deal with RSNs struggling

By AP News


The NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury announced a new media rights deal that could pave the way for local sports broadcasts following the much-publicized struggles of regional sports networks

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PHOENIX (AP) — The NBA's Phoenix Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury announced a media rights deal on Friday that could pave the way for local sports broadcasts following the much-publicized struggles of regional sports networks.

The Suns have partnered with Gray Television Inc., which includes three local TV affiliates, and Kiswe, which provides live streaming. Suns and Mercury games will be available for nearly 2.8 million households in Arizona, which the teams say more than triples the current number of Arizona homes both can reach.

Suns and Mercury governor Mat Ishbia — who was approved as the new majority owner in February — said he wasn't overly concerned about the immediate financial impact of the move.

“Money follows success, not the other way around,” Ishbia told The Associated Press. "Too many people are sitting here and saying, ‘You’re going to get less revenue, why would you want to do that?' Listen, I want to get more fans. I want to get more fans, take care of people and do the right thing.

“Not disrespectfully, I've got a lot of money. I've made money in my life, I've worked really hard to make a lot of money. Not every decision I make is about more money, more money, more money.”

Forbes recently listed Ishbia's net worth at just over $5 billion. He is chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, which bills itself as the nation’s largest mortgage lender.

Ishbia originally agreed to a deal in December to purchase the Suns and Mercury, which were valued at about $4 billion. He said the new media rights deal is all about getting as many people to watch his teams as possible.

“Help expand our reach, so more people can watch this amazing team that has Devin Booker and Kevin Durant,” Ishbia said. “Even on the women's side, I've got Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Sophie Cunningham — I'm getting these people in front of 3 million households. That feels really good.”

Games will be available to watch in the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma media markets.

Diamond Sports Group, the largest owner of regional sports networks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. The move came after it missed a $140 million interest payment in February.

Diamond owns 19 networks under the Bally Sports banner. Those networks have the rights to 42 professional teams — 14 baseball, 16 NBA and 12 NHL, including the Suns.

The company has been current on rights fees payments to NBA and NHL teams, but it has missed payments for up to six baseball teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks. With Diamond struggling, teams have been searching for ways to adjust. Cord-cutting by cable subscribers is part of the reason regional sports networks have struggled.

“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 said. “By going entirely over the air and building our own DTC (direct-to-consumer) 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 Suns and Mercury say the new agreement is subject to the approval of the NBA and WNBA, along with any required resolution with the incumbent regional sports partner.

Diamond Sports is challenging the deal on two factors. One, the company says it was not given the right to match the contract. Also, since the company is in bankruptcy proceedings, the contract with the Suns and Mercury remains an asset. Diamond believes any changes to the contract by either side has to be petitioned or filed through the courts.

“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 company said in a statement. "This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights.”


AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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Author: AP News

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