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The Mavericks local broadcasting situation is a big mess

Due to contract disputes among various providers, the options are limited for fans located in DFW to watch the Mavericks.

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Fortuna Düsseldorf - VfL Osnabrück Photo by Marius Becker/picture alliance via Getty Images

Did you enjoy the Dallas Mavericks preseason wins against the Milwaukee Bucks? Watch Boban Marjanovic try to win the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves? The second and third preseason games were the first games of the 2020-2021 season to be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Southwest, after the first game last week was streamed on the Mavericks website.

Chances are you didn’t enjoy it, because you either couldn’t watch or you couldn’t be bothered to change TV services. Due to contract disputes with various TV providers, Fox Sports Southwest — and the Dallas Mavericks — are not as easy to watch for local DFW residents. That seems less than ideal.

So here’s the rundown: Sinclair Broadcast Group owns the Fox Sports regional sports networks (like Fox Sports Southwest). The agreements Sinclair had with TV providers expired sometime within the past year and the two sides haven’t come to a new agreement. That’s led to a lot of TV providers in DFW suddenly not having Fox Sports Southwest in their lineups anymore.

The list is sorta staggering — live TV streaming options like YouTube TV, Hulu and Sling are out. Even traditional cable/satellite providers like Frontier and Dish are boned. None of them currently have Fox Sports Southwest. It’s become a big enough issue that Mavericks beat writer Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News wrote an entire story about it due to the feedback he was receiving from fans.

It’s probably better to look at the providers that do offer it. Friend of the site Sydney Myers compiled a list and it’s bleak. The only live-TV streaming providers to carry Fox Sports Southwest as of right now are AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now. Yes, that’s as confusing as it sounds.

AT&T has two live TV streaming services — AT&T TV, which for some reason tries to bring the traditional cable experience (custom equipment and contract agreements) but with streaming. It appears they’re using it to replace their traditional cable option, as you can’t purchase U-verse anymore. AT&T TV Now is more like YouTube TV or Hulu, it’s just an internet live TV provider with the pros of month-to-month payments, ability to cancel anytime, and use your own devices to watch. However, you have to pay for the higher-tier, $80 per month option to get Fox Sports Southwest. That tier probably includes channels you don’t even want, which has made the whole cutting the cord business frustrating. It’s also more expensive than the plans offered by YouTube TV, Hulu and Sling that featured Fox Sports Southwest.

When you consider Americans are cutting the cord (no cable or satellite TV) at huge numbers, this seems like a big deal! Personally, as someone who first had PlayStation Vue and now YouTube TV, this entire process has been a pain in the ass. You would think the NBA would want to get ahead on the obvious streaming future, but we’re still stuck in backward TV contract disputes.

My experience watching the Timberwolves game was brutal — after being thoroughly unimpressed with ATT TV Now, I decided to screw it and find, ahem, other means to watch the game and keep my YouTube TV subscription that I’m still plenty satisfied with. I spent most of the first half huddled next to my living room TV, going back and forth between my laptop and my wife’s, trying to figure out the best way to get the stream onto the TV. By the time I got it someplace I was happy with, it was halftime. It sucked. Now remember, this is me, a diehard who is an editor of a Mavericks site. Of course I’ll go through the extra effort to watch the games. What about the rest of the fan base though? The ones that like watching the occasional Mavericks game, but aren’t going to go out of there way to find a new option when they realize their current provider doesn’t have Fox Sports Southwest. Thankfully, the Mavericks are on national TV 16 times out of their first 37 games, but it’s still a disaster.

You would also think Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who made his fortune selling his internet streaming company, would want to make sure those in DFW who want to stream the Mavericks can. Well, his response has mostly been an ‘aw shucks’ shrug and a plug for Mavericks sponsor AT&T.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do, honestly. We’re talking to them and they’re telling me exactly what I convey to you,” Cuban told Sportsradio 96.7 FM/1310 The Ticket in an interview last week. “That they feel really strongly that those platforms are going to have to come around for all the reasons that you guys are hearing that fans want the games, period, end of story. And that’s not good for their business, particularly when you’ve got, particularly, Hulu saying ‘Hulu has live sports’ and now they don’t. So that’s really a strategic branding issue that they’re going to have to address. It’s great for AT&T Now, particularly their month-to-month. You can go and add AT&T Now and do the monthly with it and get the games — and actually, you can even wait a couple days because the first couple ones are ESPN and then TNT and then NBATV, so if you have them, you’re covered for the first three games and can buy some time.”

All of this sucks. There are 17 NBA teams that have their local TV rights owned by Sinclair, which means half of the teams in the league have fans scrambling to find a way to watch their favorite team. Hell, YouTube TV has sponsored the last two NBA Finals! You can’t, legally, use the NBA’s streaming service, League Pass, in the local market of your team due to blackout restrictions. This is terrible. While bad faith critics point to social issues as the cause of the NBA’s ratings slide, the real truth is that people, especially younger people, just aren’t watching live TV much at all anymore. Compile that with 17 teams having all their streaming options cut down to one service? It’s a nightmare scenario for the league. The NBA needs to meet their fanbase where they are and not force them to go somewhere they don’t want to. As Maitreyi Anantharaman wrote for Defector earlier this week, we just want to give the NBA money so we can watch our local teams. This shouldn’t be that hard.

Here are the list of regional sports networks that are owned by Sinclair. This goes far beyond the NBA.

  • Fox Sports Arizona
  • Fox Sports Carolinas
  • Fox Sports Detroit
  • Fox Sports Florida
  • Fox Sports Indiana
  • Fox Sports Kansas City
  • Fox Sports Midwest
  • Fox Sports New Orleans
  • Fox Sports North
  • Fox Sports Ohio
  • Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Fox Sports Prime Ticket
  • Fox Sports San Diego
  • Fox Sports South
  • Fox Sports Southeast
  • Fox Sports Southwest
  • Fox Sports Sun
  • Fox Sports Tennessee
  • Fox Sports West
  • Fox Sports Wisconsin
  • SportsTime Ohio
  • Marquee Sports Network
  • YES Network

Bottom line — if you want to watch the Mavericks in DFW and you do not want to dig back into the muck of a cable or satellite provider, your best (legal) bet is AT&T TV Now, pay $80 per month and hope your preferred service gets Fox Sports Southwest back. Oh and one more thing: who knows when Sinclair’s agreement with AT&T will run out, causing you to switch providers again. Sinclair’s plan is to create some separate streaming service for their regional sports networks, integrating gambling tech into live TV — so there’s a decent chance you’ll be waking up to an email in the next 12 months that says AT&T has dropped Fox Sports Southwest too. I’m sure the NBA will love their fans being pushed to pirating their games even more. What a mess.