Digital media company PHNX Sports brings fans-first approach to Arizona

After years of Phoenix Suns coverage, Greg Esposito and Lindsey Smith opted to join PHNX Sports, which takes a fan-friendly approach to sports coverage. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

PHNX Sports general manager Saul Bookman, right, here with Gerald Bourguet, said the company’s “ethos is to lead from the crowd, not the stage.” (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – More than a month ago, sports fans in Phoenix and around Arizona were introduced to a new digital media outlet that provides coverage of the Valley’s major pro sports teams, Arizona State and Arizona and sports betting.

However, unlike other media outlets, PHNX Sports is aimed at building a community of fans and engaging them through social media and the outlet’s subscription-based website, gophnx.com, which includes a digital “lounge” where fans can gather to discuss Arizona sports topics.

It’s a unique, fans-first approach.

“The goal is to cultivate culture and community around sports in the local market, and we do that by changing the way fans are able to engage and interact with the people who cover their favorite teams,” said Brandon Spano, CEO of All City Network, the parent of PHNX Sports.

PHNX Sports is an expansion of the network Spano, a former Bleacher Report sportswriter and Denver sports-talk radio host, launched in 2014 that featured a group of bloggers.

That enterprise eventually grew into DNVR Sports, which includes written beat coverage, podcasts, videocasts, merchandise and even a sports bar – all aimed at Denver sports fans.

Like DNVR Sports, the PHNX Sports digital media outlet features podcasts, post-game shows, a YouTube channel, weekly sport shows, sports betting content and merchandise.

The company attracted some popular Valley media personalities. including former Channel 12 sportscaster Chierstin Susel, longtime Coyotes reporter Craig Morgan and Suns podcaster Greg Esposito, who is also the company’s vice president of content.

Longtime Arizona Coyotes reporter Craig Morgan had a large following before landing at PHNX Sports. (Photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

The idea is to gather audiences from talk-radio stations, social media, websites and newspapers and create a sense of community through various platforms under one brand that, ideally, will bring the sports town together.

Spano developed a concept of three “C’s,” which encompass the company’s mission: culture, community and content.

“At the end of the day, this is about the pride of the city and building a community and culture and creating content where people can be proud to represent Arizona,” Spano said.

PHNX Sports includes beat coverage, podcasts and conversation about the Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Suns, Coyotes, Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils, although it also branches into other sports such as the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

Even traditional sports media are moving toward streaming more content, and Saul Bookman, general manager of PHNX Sports, said the aim is to reach the audience wherever it might be through a digital model.

“We want to go where the people (fans) are, and everybody uses technology in their hands every single day with their cellphones,” Bookman said.

The goal of PHNX Sports is to create an inclusive community where people are proud to be from Phoenix and represent its teams and the state sports scene.

The idea isn’t just to discuss sports, it is to include fans in the discussion.

“Our ethos is to lead from the crowd, not the stage,” Bookman said. “We are not trying to talk down to you. We want you to be a part of our conversation and be a part of our family.”

The PHNX Sports model creates communities within a community, with channels dedicated to each of the teams, but also general discussion of topics and issues that impact all of the pro franchises and college programs.

PHNX Sports maintains a primary Twitter account for all content and discussion, but also individual team Twitter accounts focused on the teams the digital outlet covers, along with another devoted to sports gambling.

“We understand that not every football fan is a hockey fan, a basketball fan or an ASU fan,” Bookman said.

Makayla Perkins, the director of social media for PHNX, is the brains behind the main Twitter account and a veteran of the DNVR Sports operation.

Perkins wanted every detail of the launch planned and perfect to have the greatest impact.

“We need to make noise,” Perkins said. “We need to let people know we are here and about to change the sports landscape.”

Employees of PHNX Sports posted teaser videos before the launch date to fuel conversation on social media.

As a result, the primary PHNX Twitter account reached 4,000 followers in the first two weeks. The PHNX Sports YouTube channel, which has produced more than 160 videos, already has more than 1,300 subscribers.

The Sept. 9 launch was timed to coincide with the introduction of legalized sports betting in Arizona, and PHNX Sports has a PHNX Bets channel on its platforms to address the appetite fans have for sports wagering. Perkins said the legalization of sports betting in Arizona was one reason All City expanded into the market.

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In addition to her duties as director of social media for PHNX, Perkins is host of the Phoenix Sports Postcast, a weekly show where guests from other team podcasts can join in discussing anything in the Arizona sports news landscape. Similarly, the PHNX.com website includes a “lounge” where fans can gather to discuss various topics virtually.

“It’s the best way to get a really quick glimpse into what’s going on in Arizona sports news,” Perkins said.

Perkins also is a member of the PHNX Diamondbacks podcast and is one of five women involved in coverage. Of the six teams PHNX covers, five include a woman.

The representation of women on each of the teams is part of the company’s goal of a more inclusive community and for a female audience to feel comfortable in a male-dominated sports fandom world.

There is more to come from PHNX Sports, Spano said, including a sports bars like the one DNVR successfully opened in Denver, despite a worldwide pandemic.

Like the DNVR Bar located in the heart of Denver, the hope is to open PHNX Bar in central Phoenix. The Denver bar plays host to team watch parties, televises all of the games of local teams and records podcasts and videos on site, where fans can listen in during the recording.

The Denver bar also allows those fans who don’t have access to some of their favorite teams’ broadcasts because of their cable or satellite TV to watch the games. That is becoming a bigger issue in the new world of television streaming.

In Arizona, for instance, subscribers to streaming services such as Sling and YouTube TV cannot watch games carried on Bally Sports Arizona, which carries Suns, Diamondbacks and Coyotes games. Some services also don’t carry the Pac-12 Networks, which carry a lot of Arizona and Arizona State games.

“We want to rep the Valley,” Bookman said. “We want to encourage that.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Isabella Duran expects to graduate in December 2021 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Duran is working in the Phoenix Sports Bureau.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Mary Grace Grabill expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in film production. Grabill, who has interned as a photographer for Phoenix Magazine, is working in the Phoenix Sports Bureau.

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