As the NBA heads into its next round of national television deal negotiations, there is a growing expectation that the league — and its franchises on the local level — will start to pull back from putting their games on cable networks. The reason is simple: Viewers, particularly those under 30, have cut the cord from cable. That has teams considering a mix of streaming and over-the-air broadcast networks as the best way to get their product in front of fans.
The Phoenix Suns and new owner Mat Ishbia have pushed that boundary. Heading into this season, the Suns did not renew their deal with cable’s Bally Sports — leaving tens of millions on the table — and instead will make 70 of the games available on local broadcast stations across the state, plus partnering with a streaming option.
To help fans watch those over-the-air Suns’ games, the team — along with Arizona’s Family Sports network and antenna maker Channel Master — gave away antennas so people could better pull in the over-the-air signal. Fans can order the free antenna through Suns.com or Channel Master as long as supplies last.
Which may not be that long, the first batch was handed out quickly and the team had to order more, reports ESPN.
It’s going to be a wild season in Phoenix and one where the fans will want to watch. The Suns walk in the doors title contenders with Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker at the top, but concerns about depth and health will be tested in a Western Conference that will have no mercy this season.
Not every team — and not the NBA as a whole — is going to jump in with both feet like the Suns did to embrace a change in how to broadcast their games to the public. Big brand franchises such as the Lakers, Knicks and Warriors have very lucrative local cable deals, and the NBA and ESPN are still closely tied. But how people consume sports is changing, and sports leagues will have to change with them, everything will feel different in a decade.
Credit the Suns, they have jumped into that brave new world and are giving out antennas to bring their fans along.