The day Utah Jazz fans have been waiting for years is finally here.
The Jazz announced Tuesday morning that they will air games on KJZZ-TV starting in the upcoming 2023-24 season. The over-the-air station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group — channel 14 on most dials — will carry all non-nationally televised Jazz games for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, the team will establish a new media arm called SEG Media (the first three letters stand for Smith Entertainment Group, after team owner Ryan Smith). SEG Media will sell subscriptions to a direct-to-consumer streaming service for fans to watch games over the Internet, which also promises to provide “unprecedented access” to the team with “behind-the-scenes” footage.
The move ends a tumultuous 15-year era of broadcast Jazz games, with a declining number of fans able to watch games under the model of cable-based regional sports networks. Instead, the move will open up gaming to a wider audience of Utahns.
What’s new for jazz fans?
Under the new deal, the Jazz have “granted” Sinclair Broadcasting the rights to broadcast Jazz games in the market — although the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Sinclair will air games on KJZZ, and may even choose to air select games on its main station KUTV. The team also says KUTV will also carry “significant coverage” of the team on its station, produced by either Sinclair or SEG Media, throughout the year.
No length of the contract was announced, but Smith said, “It’s not a super long-term deal, but with the flexibility, it’s probably more of a partnership than a deal. … With KJZZ, if we’re good partners, we stay and if we are not good partners with each other, we will not do it.”
The deal has been approved by the NBA.
The new streaming service, which the team plans to offer starting in October, also speaks to the team’s desire to reach more fans, especially younger fans without traditional television capabilities.
Although details about the service are sparse — Smith is not releasing the cost of the platform, for example — the publication says it plans to offer a paid subscription service to “deliver” every Jazz game to fans via the direct-to-consumer streaming platform.
“What we want to do is create one experience where you go UtahJazz.com, or with the app, and you can just see it right there,” Smith said. “You’re not going anywhere else. It’s right there.” It’s also unknown what devices such an app might be available on, with the team saying they will release details over the summer about their streaming plans.
Similar direct-to-consumer streaming services, from regional sports networks and teams, charge $15 to $30 monthly for people to watch their teams’ games locally online.
In addition, SEG Media hopes to offer other content through the streaming service, providing “unprecedented access to the team, front office and corporate leadership via exclusive behind-the-scenes footage,” according to the company’s press release. The Jazz were previously unenthusiastic about the lack of additional Jazz-related content available on AT&T SportsNet under the old deal. Other RSNs regularly had complementary team-related programming outside of game windows, but AT&T SportsNet rarely did.
The effort is somewhat reminiscent of the Memphis Grizzlies’ Grind City Media brand launched in 2016which saw several content creators employed in a separate unit to cover the team and the city – although we’ll see if SEG Media follows Grind City Media’s big ambition.
“Our players work too hard and are too fun to watch for us to be okay with any fan missing the action. No one has a closer affinity for our team than we do, and SEG Media will help Jazz fans experience our organization in a way that has never been possible before, on more channels than ever before,” Smith said in a statement.
Regardless of the changes elsewhere, we know some old faces will remain in place. Longtime Jazz play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack will still run the main show, the Jazz announced, with Thurl Bailey and Holly Rowe continuing to act as color commentators. Michael Smith and Alema Harrington will also continue to host the pre- and post-game segments next season.
A changing media landscape
Why this move now? Essentially, the regional sports network landscape around the country had completely fallen apart.
The networks failed because of a changing marketplace for television consumers. As more and more cable and satellite subscribers “cut the cord” to sign up for new streaming services, regional sports networks saw major cuts in the amount of income they received. While they tried to make up for it with increased fees per subscriber, this only triggered major carriers, like Dish, to cut the stations altogether.
“When we first took over management of the team, (only) 39% of Utah households had the opportunity to watch Jazz games,” said Smith, the Jazz owner.
The tallest tree to fall was Diamond Sports Group, ironically also owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. For years there were rumors of their financial difficulties, and the group finally went bankrupt this year. That company broadcast games from 42 NBA, MLB and NHL franchises on 19 different “Bally” regional sports networks. Other owners of RSNs, like Comcast, appeared to be selling them as well.
Most importantly for the Jazz, the local AT&T SportsNet station — the several mergers and acquisitions removed stepchild of the Fox Sports Network with which the team originally signed the 2009 deal — was shuttered in February. Parent company Warner Brothers’ Discovery decided to exit the company, team tells it they didn’t have enough money to pay rights fees anymore.
The Jazz had previously held on to AT&T SportsNet with one-year contracts in the years through 2021, hoping new bidders would emerge. In particular, the team hoped that one of the big five FAANG tech companies — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google — would seek interest in local sports programming and perhaps continue the world of high-dollar local sports TV rights. .
However, that clearly did not happen. As a result, the Jazz had only limited bidders for the rights over the past three seasons.
It’s a problem that virtually every MLB, NHL and NBA team faces. In the past three months, two nearby teams have made similar moves, as the Jazz announced Tuesday. The Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, also an orphan of AT&T SportsNet, gave their broadcast rights to local broadcaster KMCC, a Scripps station. The Phoenix Suns made a similar deal with local stations KTVK, KPHA and KPHE — though a bankruptcy judge representing Diamond Sports blocked the deal for now in May.
The downside to the changing landscape is the paltry revenue fees teams will receive so far under these over-the-air broadcast deals. The benefit is opening up games to a much larger audience of fans than the regional sports network model.
“This new approach is one of the most important investments we’ve made since we bought the team because it allows us to deliver Utah Jazz games to all 3.3 million plus Utahns,” Smith said.
A return to KJZZ
Then-Jazz owner Larry H. Miller first tried with TV station KJZZ under similar circumstances 30 years ago, in 1993. Prior to that season, the team’s broadcast agreement with KSTU (Channel 13) expired and the station was not interested in renewal thanks to a new broadcast arrangement with national content producer Fox. As a result, Miller needed a place to make Jazz games accessible to his fan base.
Enter station KXIV, a small station that first aired classic TV reruns in 1989. Miller bought the station for an estimated $9 million four years later, putting Jazz games, Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey games, 41 Colorado Rockies- games and Utah high school sports programming on the air. For sixteen years, it would be the local home of the Jazz, growing the fan base with games accessible by wireless antennas.
But in 2009, after Miller’s death, the team announced a 12-year deal with cable channel Fox Sports Net to exclusively broadcast their games for an annual payment of $20 million a year. The rest of the NBA was moving in that direction, and the Jazz found the large payments from the cable company too hard to turn down – the payment alone would contribute 28% of the Jazz’s player salary that season.
“We were moving forward from a revenue and simplicity standpoint, but we were moving backward from an experience standpoint,” Smith said of the 2009 decision.
After KJZZ lost the rights to its star attraction, the Miller family first contracted with KSL-TV to operate the station. Then, in 2016, they sold the station for $6.5 million to Sinclair Broadcasting, who wanted to use it as an additional content station for their main programming on KUTV (Channel 2).