The list of National Basketball Association teams offering
local pay-per-view games continued to dwindle, amid a potentially long NBA work stoppage.
The latest casualty was the Phoenix Suns. The team decided
to forgo its limited PPV-game carriage for distribution on basic cable and local
syndication outlets, said Tom Ambrose, the Suns' senior vice president of public
Actually, the beginning of the end for Suns PPV games came
during last year's playoff telecasts, Ambrose said. Both the Suns and Cox
Communications Inc. decided to offer the games through the system's sports channel,
which had already aired a number of Suns regular-season games.
The decision came after the Suns announced a multimedia
deal with U S West that covered exclusive residential- and business-communications
services for the Suns, including all of the team's telecommunications business,
directory services, long-distance
services, pay-phone services, Internet services and
Bruce Smith, media-relations and communications manager for
the 585,000-subscriber system, said Cox decided to make the games available to the widest
possible audience, despite generating decent buy-rates for the games.
Over the past five years, the system has averaged a 7
percent buy-rate for Suns regular-season and playoff games, with a performance peak of 11
percent during the 1994-95 season, when the Suns went to the NBA Finals.
"We were very interested in making the Suns
programming available to all of our customers," Smith said.
Ambrose, however, said offering the games via PPV created
some public-relations problems for the team. Each year, the Suns received complaints from
customers about the PPV games, and buy-rates declined steadily from year to year.
"The increase in revenue that we received [from PPV]
was offset by the negativity that it created among our fans," Ambrose said.
The Suns were the latest NBA team to drop local-PPV
telecasts this year. The Houston Rockets and Seattle SuperSonics nixed PPV last year for
the more lucrative and guaranteed revenue from regional-sports networks.
Ironically, the decision may prove prudent for the teams
and for cable operators. The league could face a severe consumer backlash if the season is
delayed due to the owners' lockout. With the scheduled start of the regular season a
little more than a month away, and no new negotiations set between owners and players, a
delay in the regular season is almost inevitable.
But Paragon Cable of Portland, Ore., is still optimistic
that it will be able to successfully offer its package of Portland Trail Blazers PPV games
on time. The Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs are currently the only NBA franchises
offering regular-season PPV games. "So far, the Blazers have been optimistic and
proceeding on track as usual for the beginning of the season," said Jeff Henry, vice
president of marketing for the system. "We're not concerned at this point."
Even if the season is delayed, Henry said, the system --
which is offering Blazers games for the 16th straight season -- is prepared to offer the
games via PPV, although a potential reduction in games could alter its Blazers PPV-package