Earlier today, I had the opportunity to monitor the ESPN/MLB conference call announcing the new deal that lengthens the relationship between the two entities to 30 years when the contract expires in 2021.
In this new eight year deal, ESPN will return to the MLB Postseason with one Wild Card Playoff game starting in 2014. John Skipper, the President of ESPN, did not rule out that the network could get other MLB Postseason packages, however, it appears that the league is holding the other Wild Card Playoff Game for MLB Network while determining if Turner, Fox and possibly NBC will pay the cash to swallow up the League Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series. I’m thinking that either Turner or NBC Sports Network will get the cable portion of the MLB Postseason contract with Fox continuing its LCS/World Series package on the network side.
MLB Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest Bud Selig mentioned that most likely, there won’t be more of than the existing national packages that have been distributed to ESPN, Fox, MLB Network and TBS. There could be some minor alterations to each as we have seen in the case of ESPN, but there won’t be a new package created. So NBC would have to wrest one away from Fox or TBS if it wants to get back into the Baseball business.
ESPN takes away the regular season tiebreaker games that had previously been on TBS. Before TBS got the cable half of the MLB Postseason in 2007, ESPN had been the home of all regular season tiebreakers.
Also, ESPN increases the amount of regular season games to 90 and brings back the traditional holiday games that had been on the network until 2007. So ESPN/ESPN2 will have games on the Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day, plus extensive coverage of Opening Day.
One of the most important aspects of the deal is the amount of reduced local blackouts. Starting in 2014, ESPN will have increased access to home markets on Monday and Wednesday nights. That means ESPN’s telecasts will be able to be seen in Boston if the Red Sox are playing on Mondays or Wednesdays and NESN will no longer have protection from the national broadcast. According to John Skipper, the local blackouts could be lifted to the point where they may become obsolete. We’ll see what the local regional sports networks will have to say about that. The RSN’s pay a lot of money for local rights and not having exclusivity could become a sore point.
Under the new deal, ESPN gets additional digital rights meaning streaming of its games on ESPN3 and WatchESPN. MLB Advanced Media had to sign off on the deal and MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman in the conference call said ESPN was both a partner and a competitor. Plus, Selig said that MLBAM was still in the midst of rapid growth was looking to see where it would be in ten years. MLBAM has been known to play hardball with MLB’s TV partners when it comes to relenting on digital rights. For ESPN to get increased streaming rights is a big deal. I wanted to ask Bowman and Selig if the other TV partners would get the opportunity to get similar deals, but I was not called upon.
Not only does ESPN increase its baseball content with regular season and postseason games plus highlights for Baseball Tonight, it also keeps its current packages and All-Star Game Weekend show so it means we won’t be avoiding Chris Berman’s bloviating calls in the Home Run Derby anytime soon.
The ESPN deal is huge. It keeps the network relevant in the summer and prevents NBC from encroaching on its MLB turf at least for now. Score this one in the Bristol column. While ESPN will tell you this was a deal to keep a tradition on its network, it was a huge pre-emptive strike at competitors who wanted to get one of the network’s major sports properties away from the Worldwide Leader.
Now with NASCAR, the new college football playoff, the Big East, and U.S. Open tennis still in play, the window for other networks to claim victories is getting smaller.