Mat Ishbia: Suns TV agreement to leave Bally was 100% ‘right thing’ for fans

Apr 28, 2023, 3:50 PM

Mat Ishbia...

Incoming Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia claps as the 1993 Suns team is introduced during halftime of ah NBA basketball game between the Suns and the Indiana Pacers in Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Mat Ishbia distilled his decision to leave the regional sports network Bally Sports Arizona down to one thing:

“What would the community want? They want to watch the games,” Ishbia told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Friday. “So how do I get the games to more people for less cost or no cost? That’s what we’re doing.”

The Suns believe moving away from Bally Sports Arizona, which is on cable, and to local channels owned by Gray Television will triple the number of fans who will be able to watch games.

The company owns KTVK (Arizona’s Family 3TV), KPHO (Arizona’s Family CBS5) and the statewide KPHE (AZ Family Sports Network), which will help the teams reach the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma media markets and 2.8 million households. The new deal announced Friday also includes Kiswe, an interactive video company, which will create a subscription streaming platform for cable-cutters.

ESPN reports the Suns could lose tens of millions of dollars per year in the short term. But as Ishbia promised when he bought the team in February, his goal is to serve the community.

The owner of a mortgage lending company has a tenant: that money will follow success.

“People focus too much on money,” he said. “What I focus on is if I dominate from a fan experience, if I make it an amazing community asset, if we put a great product on the floor and we’re winning and we take great care of our team members — all of the stuff I talked about at the press conference when I originally bought the team — money will follow.

“Yes, I believe we’ll make money. I don’t even know the details about the money. The reality is when I was told I have the option to do this and we discussed this, we said 100% we’re going to do the right thing for the fan base.”

The deal with Gray is “subject to the approval of the NBA and WNBA and any required resolution with the incumbent regional sports partner,” according to a press release.

The Suns were still under a contract agreement with Diamond Sports, which operates Bally Sports Arizona, through this season. Diamond released a statement Friday that the Suns are breaching a contract, and Sports Business Journal reports that Diamond believes it has the ability to match any new deal.

“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,” Diamond Sports 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.”

Asked about potential litigation, Ishbia said he is not worried about moving forward with the plan.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” he said. “We’re doing right by the fans and community. … It’s really not even a concern of mine. The reality is that company’s got their own issues, we wish them nothing but the best, they were great for us for a while. I hope they’re successful in anything they do but we’re focusing on what’s best for the Phoenix Suns and the Phoenix Mercury and our fan base, and that’s why I made that decision.”

Diamond, 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.

The operator in March first missed its rights fee payments to the Arizona Diamondbacks, reported John Ourand of Sports Business Journal.

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

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