Arizona Uprising: Bally Sports near death in the Cactus State

Suns and Diamondbacks bail on bankrupt RSN

The sun is setting on Bally Sports Arizona in the Valley Of The Sun as Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks are the latest team to bail on the company who runs the regional sports network. 

A significant development took place Monday as Bally’s bankrupt owner Diamond Sports Group skipped its rights payment to the Diamondbacks, meaning rights to the team reverted to Major League Baseball becoming official Tuesday, according to The TV Answer Man. A bankruptcy judge approved Diamond’s motion to reject the contract, meaning the Diamondbacks joins the San Diego Padres in MLB taking over producing and distributing the games to cable providers and DirecTV and available to stream on MLB.TV in the Phoenix market and the entire state of Arizona with no blackouts. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Diamondbacks games were on Fox Sports Arizona since its inception as those Fox RSNs were purchased by Sinclair Broadcasting (Diamond’s owner) in 2018 after the company sold most of their assets to Disney. 

With the move, the local reach for Diamondbacks games should increase, as those watched the team could only do so through traditional cable or satellite provider DirecTV, or through Fubo and DirecTV stream – all expensive options as viewers across the country are cutting the cord due to the high cost of these packages.

Bally also had signage at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play – the exit of the network means those signs are likely to be taken down or plastered over. 

How to watch Arizona Diamondbacks games. Click to enlarge.

Last week, Diamond gave up the fight to keep the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury on Bally Sports Arizona, meaning those games shifts to Gray Television outlets in Arizona beginning in October (Gray is already airing Mercury games.) The station group owns CBS affiliate KPHO, independent KTVK, and statewide outlet KPHE with the Suns and Mercury teaming up with technology company Kiswe to make games available to stream. The deal was blocked by a bankruptcy judge earlier as Diamond said it had first right of refusal to match any offer, though the contract between the Suns and Bally expired at the end of the season. This marks a return to broadcast television for Suns games since 2011, when Fox’s duopoly station KUTP had the rights. 

Based in Atlanta, Gray took control of KTVK and KPHO after purchasing TV stations formerly owned by Meredith Corp. Even though both stations are located on Channel 3 and Channel 5 respectively, they are in a duopoly as KTVK isn’t ranked as one of the four most-watched stations in the market, per FCC rule in order to keep one broadcaster from dominating ad revenue.

The moves are significant given the ever-growing Phoenix area is now the country’s eleventh-largest television market, and the largest market so far where implications of the Diamond bankruptcy forced a change.  Like other second-tier big markets, Phoenix underwent a massive affiliation change in 1994 with longtime CBS station KSAZ defecting to Fox in the Fox-New World deal, with CBS eventually signing former independent KPHO. A separate affiliation deal Scripps signed with ABC the same year saw the network defect from longtime affiliate KTVK after 40 years to KNXV, who lost Fox in the Fox-New World deal. 

With the exit of the Suns and Diamondbacks, Bally Sports Arizona is now left with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, who could be forced out of town as a public vote to build a new stadium in Tempe recently failed last spring as the team plays in the smallest facility in all of professional sports. The Coyotes released a statement Tuesday, stating it is evaluating all options. But even if Bally manages to keep the Coyotes, it and the still operational sister channel in San Diego are likely to meet the same fate as Fox Sports Net Chicago, who folded after all the teams involved bolted to Comcast SportsNet (now NBC Sports Chicago.) 


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