The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights are the latest team to move away from regional sports networks and pivot to offering their games for free over the air.

Las Vegas, whose games were previously broadcast on AT&T SportsNet, reached an agreement with Scripps to air their games. Since Utah is included in the Golden Knights’ TV rights, Utahns will be able to watch Las Vegas games over the air for free — no cable or satellite service required — with a TV antenna.

Last week, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — previously broadcast on Bally Sports — announced they will be offering their games for free over the air in Phoenix and on a streaming app.

Any national games (such as those on TNT, ESPN, ABC, etc.) are excluded from the deal. Last season, 12 of Phoenix’s regular-season games were on ESPN or TNT, meaning 70 of 82 games would have been available on local TV.

The moves come at a time when regional sports networks — and cable and satellite TV — are under stress.

AT&T SportsNet, which has exclusively broadcast Jazz games in Utah under one name or another since 2009, is discontinuing its regional sports networks. Diamond Sports Group — operator of Bally Sports, which broadcasts 42 pro sports teams — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

The Jazz’s contract with AT&T SportsNet ended this offseason. Could the Jazz offer their own streaming service, as the Los Angeles Clippers do for $200 a season? Could they offer their games over the air, as they did on KJZZ from the 1990s to mid-2000s? Could they find another RSN home that also offers a streaming option?

Utah Jazz games to be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet in 2022-23, but change could be on the way

Last August, team sources said that the Jazz’s goal was to provide a multitude of options to watch the team — through cable and satellite (e.g. DirecTV, Xfinity, Dish), streaming TV packages (e.g. FuboTV, YouTube TV) and a direct-to-consumer pay-per-view option — for one game, a package of games or a whole season.

The Jazz have their own TV production team, making a switch to another format or TV network easier.

“The team (Jazz) wants to marry a broadcast on TV and a direct-to-consumer option to reach fans who prefer one or the other,” The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov reported this March.

“We’ve been exploring those over the past few months,” Jazz spokesperson Caroline Klein told The Athletic. “We’re very conscious of the way fans want to consume games having rapidly evolved and we’re looking at things that are different than the traditional RSN model.

“And really just speak to what our fans want for the ’23-24 season that speak to some of the things we identified as priorities at the beginning of the season, in terms of distribution and fan experience. And the ability for that direct-to-consumer streaming option.”

The Jazz went away from KJZZ and over-the-air TV for a big reason — 20 million of them. The original 12-year TV contract with AT&T SportsNet, which ran from 2009 to 2021, reportedly paid the Jazz $20 million per year.

With the decline of regional sports networks, the Jazz are not likely to see that kind of money in a regional network TV deal again, but the Jazz also get money from the league’s national TV rights. The NBA’s national TV contracts are up after the 2024-25 season and the league is reportedly aiming for $75 billion in deals.

AT&T SportsNet is out of the picture and moving to Bally Sports seems unlikely because of its bankruptcy. NBC and Spectrum both operate regional sports networks, but it seems like a long shot that either one of those networks would be interested in paying a hefty sum for Jazz rights, or that the Jazz would want to enter another long-term deal with a regional network after complaints from fans about the deal with AT&T SportsNet.

Regional sports networks certainly do not look like the future of sports broadcasting.

So what are the Jazz’s options if they don’t partner with a regional network?

The most fan-friendly option is to broadcast games over-the-air and on a streaming platform, like the Suns are doing.

By making their games free to watch, the Suns and Golden Knights are sacrificing short-term profits to ensure long-term fan loyalty.

“We’re not focusing on money. We’re focusing on winning, success and taking care of fans, taking care of the community,” new Suns owner Mat Ishbia said, per ESPN. “What happens is you always end up making money. It always works out.”

The Jazz built a loyal and passionate fanbase in Utah in part because anyone could watch their games for free. With games locked behind a cable and satellite paywall for more than a decade, and cable and satellite subscribers dwindling, the number of fans that have been able to watch regularly has gone down — especially when Dish Network dropped AT&T SportsNet in October 2021.

But the Jazz would be leaving a lot of money on the table by going to an over-the-air option.

Another scenario could be the Jazz offering a direct-to-consumer service. Fans in Utah could sign up for a Jazz streaming service to watch games — for a price — without having to subscribe to cable or satellite, and the team would bring in more TV money than they would by doing an over-the-air deal.

The Jazz would control their broadcasts completely, and could potentially sell the broadcasts to cable and satellite companies like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish and streaming packages like YouTube TV, Hulu Live and Sling. The Jazz would likely have to create their own TV channel for this to work.

This option would meet the team’s goals for their next TV deal — being able to watch games through cable and satellite, streaming TV packages and a direct-to-consumer pay-per-view option.

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The Jazz have had a while to figure out a solution, with team sources indicating that the Jazz started work on a new deal back in August 2022.

“I want every single Jazz fan, no matter where they are in the state and beyond, to be able to watch our games in any format that they want to, and I want it to be easy,” Jazz owner Ryan Smith said in an interview with KSL Sports’ Scott Garrard and Hans Olsen in March.

In an important offseason for the franchise with the NBA draft and free agency, the TV deal looms large.

The Jazz need to get this deal right.

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