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Arizona Coyotes local games move to broadcast networks – the latest big shift in sports TV

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Barrett Hayton #29 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on December 6, 2021 in Dallas, Texas.
Glenn James | National Hockey League | Getty Images

The Arizona Coyotes are skating to a new TV home for local games – showcasing the pressure on cable TV bundles due to cord cutting while broadcast stations look to nab more sports media rights.

The NHL team reached a multi-year deal with broadcast station owner E.W. Scripps Co. on Thursday that will see its local games air on over-the-air networks. The NHL season begins Tuesday.

The transition to broadcast from cable TV came as Diamond Sports Group, the largest owner of regional sports networks, opted to reject its contract with the Coyotes, according to court papers. Diamond is under bankruptcy protection.

A streaming option will be available to fans soon, Scripps and the Coyotes said in a release.

The Coyotes’ local games aired on Bally Sports Arizona. However, earlier this year the other professional teams that aired on the network – MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury – exited for new TV homes for local games after Diamond rejected their contracts.

Terms of the deal between the Coyotes and Scripps were not disclosed Thursday.

By rejecting the Coyotes’ contract, Diamond leaves Bally Sports Arizona defunct. The move came after the company said it determined the network “was not profitable,” which is why it rejected the contracts with the other teams, too.

The Suns and Mercury reached a similar deal earlier this year with broadcast station owner Gray Television, and are launching a direct-to-consumer streaming option. MLB began running the distribution of the Diamondbacks, as well as the San Diego Padres, another contract rejected by Diamond, earlier this year.

Broadcast station owners like Scripps and Gray have been vying for the rights to local games, especially as there may be more that become available due to the Diamond bankruptcy filing, CNBC previously reported. Scripps has already reached deals to carry the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights – who won the Stanley Cup earlier this year – and a set of WNBA games on its networks.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery is on the way to exiting the regional sports network business – which it inherited in the 2022 merger between Warner Media and Discovery – by the end of the year, which has put another handful of teams up for grabs. Recently, MLB’s Houston Astros and NBA’s Houston Rockets said they acquired AT&T SportsNet Southwest and will relaunch it as Space City Home Network.

Even though most consumers watch broadcast networks as part of their cable bundles, the channels are free over-the-air, therefore increasing the teams’ reach and potential viewership.

Still, the economics behind the regional sports network business model has long propped up the leagues and teams with high fees. It remains unclear whether deals with broadcast stations can replicate that model.

The landscape for local games has dramatically shifted as consumers flee the traditional cable TV bundle and opt for streaming services. Diamond filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and stopped paying rights fees for some of the teams on its channels.

The company has said it’s looking to renegotiate other rights payments deals while under bankruptcy protection. Earlier this week Diamond asked the bankruptcy court to extend the amount of time it has to file a reorganization plan.

Diamond said its rights fees to the Coyotes total “tens of millions of dollars annually and increase yearly,” and the company would have owed “a substantial payment” to the team as of Oct. 1, with additional payments in subsequent months, had it not rejected the contract.

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