Mercury deal with Gray Television has potential to create domino effect throughout WNBA

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The onset of training camps throughout the WNBA has historically been the period of when we begin to hear about new media deals – if there are any – either involving the league as a whole or any of its teams. 

It was only a couple of weeks ago that we got wind of the new pact that the WNBA inked with over-the-air channel Ion Television – the former PAX TV. Howard Megdal has since written more information in a Forbes article, including confirming that the deal is indeed spanning three years and is worth $39 million. 

Then, it was last week that we heard about another television deal that may have even greater tentacles for the W’s future than the Ion agreement. 

Remember all of the talk throughout the sports world of how teams are more antsy than ever about the state of the regional sports network business. This apparently was not lost on new Phoenix Mercury and Suns boss Mat Ishbia. 

The Mercury and Suns have entered into a deal with Gray Television – an Atlanta-based owner and operator of local television stations. The networks in the big market of Phoenix that will be utilized will be KTVK-TV Channel 3 as well as KPHE-TV (Arizona’s Family Sports and Entertainment Network). 

Both are sister stations of the flagship Gray company in Arizona – KPHO-TV Channel 5, its CBS affiliate. 

If “Arizona’s Family Sports & Entertainment Network” sounds familiar to a similar network recently launched in Las Vegas, one is correct. Earlier during the offseason, the Las Vegas Aces announced that their games will be carried on the “Silver State Sports & Entertainment Network” which is a subchannel of Fox 5 KVVU-TV. Another similarity is that both KVVU is owned and operated by Gray as is KPHO in Phoenix. 

It is clear based on what Gray has launched with sports channels in Las Vegas and Phoenix that it is planning on being a major player in the sports television game in the post-RSN landscape. 

Silver State Sports and Entertainment Network also airs UNLV athletics, the Vegas Knight Hawks of the Indoor Football League and Las Vegas Lights FC of the USL. Arizona’s Family Sports & Entertainment Network has Phoenix Rising FC (also of the USL). 

The deal is subject to approval by the WNBA and NBA and Diamond Sports (Bally Sports Arizona) is already indicating it will fight the new arrangement, claiming it violates the Mercury & Suns’ deal with Bally.

Gray currently does not have any stations in the markets where three other Bally Sports teams – the Indiana Fever, Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx – call home. They have stations in their states, but none in Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth or the Twin Cities proper. It does, of course, have a pair of stations in its flagship market of Atlanta. 

It has WANF-TV, a CBS affiliate on channel 46 branded as “Atlanta News Now” that was previously WGCL-TV. It also has WPCH-TV on channel 17 – an independent channel called “Peachtree TV” that, in a previous life, was Atlanta’s over-the-air station for TBS when it was under the Turner umbrella. 

Could the Dream be next in terms of talking turkey with Gray? It is a much shorter trek for the Dream to Gray headquarters than it would be for either the Mercury or Aces, obviously. Gray does not have a sports channel equivalent for its flagship Atlanta market that it does for Las Vegas and Phoenix – at least not yet.

Gray’s deal with the Mercury and Suns is also occurring with the channel reaching the Yuma and Tucson markets. 

And what about the Fever, Lynx and Wings? Those teams may be every bit as eager to get out of those Bally Sports arrangements as apparently Ishbia was for the Mercury and Suns. 

Under the terms, 13 of the Mercury’s 40 games this season are slated to air on KTVK with KPHE picking up the slack. The arrangement also includes a deal with a streaming service called Kiswe. Ishbia apparently knew about the issues fans had with streaming under Bally given how antagonistic it seemingly was to the idea of streaming. 

Has Ishbia cracked the code for other WNBA teams whose games currently air on a Bally Sports RSN to escape those arrangements with Diamond Sports in bankruptcy? Only time will tell. But as unstable as the Bally Sports channels appear to be this moment, the four remaining Bally teams would be smart to go through any escape route they can find from the crumbling casino that is the Bally Sports house of cards.