The move of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and their local TV rights back to free over-the-air broadcast TV, led by Mike Schabel, was one of the most surprising things to happen during the big Bally Sports regional sports networks Chapter 11 breakdown this past spring.
Late in April, the Suns and their sister team, the WBNA’s Phoenix Mercury, both of which are now owned by billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia, said they would not renew their deal with Bally’s operator, the bankrupt Sinclair company Diamond Sports Group, to distribute their games.
Also, Bally Sports RSN Operator Diamond Drops Objection, Giving NBA’s Phoenix Suns Clear to Move to Gray TV Broadcast Distribution
Instead, the teams would sign an over-the-air deal with Gray Television, which would put all of their games on KTVK Phoenix and the brand-new KPHE Phoenix.
Building a Fan-Engaging Future: Mike Schabel’s Vision for Kiswe’s Direct-to-Consumer Platform in Broadcasting Local Sports
Kiswe Mobile, a digital video technology business, would build a direct-to-consumer app-based platform for the teams so that their games could be watched on TVs and mobile devices connected to the internet.
Mike Schabel, the chief strategy officer for Kiswe Mobile, told Next TV over the phone last week that the company is still in “build mode” with its new direct-to-consumer (DTC) service. This means that they are still figuring out basic things like the price point and making many of the technology decisions that go into the app itself.
We had a lot of specific questions that Mike Schabel couldn’t answer, either because he wasn’t able to talk about them yet or because he didn’t know at this point. (Schabel and his team only have until the Suns start their regular season in late October to figure everything out.)
Mike Schabel, previously employed at Bell Labs in Ireland and a Ph.D. holder in chemical engineering from the University of Arizona in Tucson, located near the Suns, expressed his enthusiasm for a potential agreement that he believes could revolutionize the broadcasting of local sports.
For one thing, he thinks that the Suns will only leave money on the table with their new TV arrangement, which lets them reach more than three times as many homes, 2.8 million, as their old Bally Sports Arizona arrangement did, 800,000.
Mike Schabel said, “Those local ad spots are going to be very valuable.” “Local sales teams are good at selling local ads.”
Add in subscription income from Kiswe and innovations like e-commerce for team gear, as well as less visible things like more people going to games because fans are more involved in the team as a whole.
Mike Schabel said, “When you start to add all of that up, you change the economic buckets, but you don’t change the overall money that much.”
Mike Schabel thinks that Kiswe’s plan for making money through apps will give the teams a way to reach younger people who don’t usually sit back and watch games on pay TV.
“We’re looking at people who have cut the cord or never had one,” Mike Schabel said, adding that this group is not just made up of younger sports fans.
He said that the Suns Kiswe app “will be built with social interaction in mind.”
As the game goes on, fans will be able to use the app to chat with friends and other fans they haven’t even met in person. They can also share things like selfie response videos.
“The fans can be a part of the experience by wearing their merchandise and showing how excited they are,” he said. “They’re a part of the show.”
The Suns and the Mercury are just some of the professional teams to do this lately on local TV.
Early in May, the NHL Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights left Warner Bros. Discovery’s AT&T SportsNet RSN system, which was going away, and signed a new deal with Scripps Sports to be shown over the air.
In a similar way, the NBA’s Utah Jazz left the failing AT&T SportsNet to sign a free over-the-air (OTA) broadcast deal with Sinclair, the broadcasting company whose (not so) strategic decisions caused the RSN breakdown in the first place.