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Pacers extend TV deal with Bally Sports Indiana — and now the real work must be done
The network is entering its 27th season as the local TV home of the Pacers, yet a reintroduction of the network and team is necessary.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment and Bally Sports finalized a new deal on Tuesday to continue their 27-year partnership.
A new contract was nearing the goal line a month ago and was finally announced on Tuesday, three weeks prior to the start of training camp for the 2022-23 season. The contract extension enables Bally Sports Indiana to remain the local television home of the Indiana Pacers.
In short, this means how you watch Pacers games is not changing. It’s the same on-air talent on the same network (formerly known as Fox Sports Indiana) airing Pacers games.
“The partnership renewal with Bally Sports Indiana allows Pacers and Fever fans to access the basketball content they love however they choose to consume it,” Rick Fuson, CEO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, said in a statement. “The upcoming launch of Bally Sports+ complements the traditional content distribution model by delivering our games and other programming directly to the consumer. This ensures a direct connection to anyone in the region, a major priority for us as we finalized this deal.”
The multi-year deal includes televising:
All available regular season games (ABC and TNT games are exclusives)
Two preseason games (that’s half their exhibition schedule)
Non-exclusive first-round playoff games
Up to 10 Fever games each season
The network’s broadcasters has remained unchanged for almost a decade with Chris Denari (entering Year 17), Quinn Buckner (24), Jeremiah Johnson (9) and Eddie Gill (7).
The announcers will return to the road with the team for the first time since 2019-20 season, Fieldhouse Files has learned.
That’s important to them and to fans — and it was not a given that they would be back on the road. The Pacers’ TV crew had called more than 90 road games the last two seasons (plus the bubble) remotely from a basement studio inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Continuing to call games remotely would have indicated to fans that the games just aren’t that important.
The Pacers hired Dan Granik and David Sternberg of Claygate Advisors as consultants for this media deal.
Feature story from last season: Examining the streaming issue that prevents a segment of Pacers fans from watching games
In the release, it is noted that “Bally Sports Indiana is widely available on cable, satellite and streaming providers throughout the region.”
That’s true — if you still subscribe to cable networks like Comcast, AT&T or Spectrum. (Click here for a list of all options.) But years ago, many transitioned to a streaming service such as YouTubeTV, Hulu + Live TV, fuboTV.
DirecTV Stream is the only streaming service that carries BSI — and it’s $89.99/month (plus taxes) after an introductory two-month offer of $69.99/month, which is still $5 more each month than YouTube TV, for example.
“There’s a disconnect because like 15, 20 percent of the fans can’t even get the game, which is really heartbreaking,” Pacers owner Herb Simon acknowledged last December.
I recognize the struggle of Pacers fans because I’m in the same boat. I’m already paying $64.99/month for YouTube TV, but cannot watch the team I cover. There are other ways to do so and younger fans, in particular, are going to seek out those options instead.
There will soon be another option — directly from the source.
To reach a larger audience, including those who chose to untether from a cable package, BSI is launching its own direct-to-consumer streaming service — Bally Sports+ — on Sept. 26.
The new platform will cost $19.99/month or $189.99/year — and if you think that’s a lot, that’s because it is.
Netflix starts at $9.99 per month, Disney+ is $7.99, ESPN+ is $9.99 and Amazon Prime is $14.99 — and they each offer way more.
That’s where Bally Sports got it wrong. It’s late to the streaming game and, even worse, it’s coming in with a high(er) price tag. There will inevitably be technical issues. (Bally Sports+ is currently live in five test markets.)
If they launched at $9.99/month or less, the reaction may be different.
Notably, Sportico is reporting that the NBA is slashing the price of League Pass from $230 to $100 for a standard package — or $15/month — and it now includes NBA TV. Pacers games are blacked out on League Pass in the central Indiana so that’s not an option for many.
Therefore, the majority of vocal fans on Twitter, at least, are unhappy about this. Just read the replies to my tweet announcing the deal. (There’s a reason that three hours after the deal was announced, neither side has tweeted the news.)
And if you don’t think it’s that big of deal, consider that the Pacers finished last (30th) in home attendance for the 2021-22 season.
The local TV broadcast is important — and BSI has drawn positive numbers, if you trust the new ratings measurement — for diehard and casual fans alike. But if you’re not exposing them to the product, it’s a challenge to capture new and casual fans who may want to attend a game.
Since the pandemic, the team has had two new coaching staffs, almost 40 different players, a new name to the fieldhouse and about $360 million invested into renovating the building, which should be completed soon.
The team needs to welcome fans back AND reintroduce themselves.
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So now that the deal is completed, there’s plenty of work ahead.
It starts with the messaging. Pacers fans still feel in the dark. What are their options? For how much? The team and network need to get ahead of it.
Then it’s about getting fans to take a chance on the app. They need to recapture the customers who have been unable to watch the last few seasons or have chosen not to do so. They’re launching with a 7-day free trial; that’s not enough. It needs to be at least 30 days — enough for fans to get used to the new app, and also with the understanding that it’s new and there will be hiccups. That’s typical. But my sense is fans have dealt with the streaming issues previously and so they’re not excited to try again. So give them a reason to come back.
Create a value added. If fans subscribe to Bally+, what else do they get beyond the games? On-demand replays for all Pacers games would be nice, but that’s limited to 48 hours by the NBA. How about a magazine show? New video podcast?
The announcers being on the road will help, but there were technical issues the past two seasons. Like with the clock and score. Those must be cleaned up.
One thing I want to make clear: If you subscribe to Bally Sports+, you will get access to the one NBA team in your region but not all of them. So if you subscribe for Pacers games, it does not also include game broadcasts of the Bucks, Pistons and Cavs, for example.
There’s a lot to be positive about with this team and its future. But no doubt, the lack of availability on streaming services continues to be a disappointment for fans. Finally there is an option, but the $20/month price point is steep. Especially entering a rebuilding season.
The Pacers open the 2022-23 season at home against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 19. Click here for my annual breakdown of their schedule.
🎧 And, in case you missed it, I discussed this partnership almost a month ago during my weekly radio hit on “Kevin & Query”. Take a listen below.