September 14, 2005

ESPN in $2.4 billion baseball deal

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Baseball will return to
ESPN and its many platforms through 2013, under the terms of a
$2.4 billion deal announced Wednesday between the sports cable
giant and Major League Baseball.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources
said ESPN was paying MLB $297 million a year for the
regular-season rights to 80 games. It's a boost from the $196
million a year baseball has been getting from ESPN for the TV
rights since 2002.

The deal includes the exclusive Sunday night plus
less-than-exclusive Monday and Wednesday night telecasts. That
adds to previously announced radio and new-media rights that
ESPN and MLB had negotiated this year, which will put baseball
content on such devices as wireless phones and PDAs.

"The future of our national pastime, the great national
pastime, is clearly represented in these agreements," ESPN
chief George Bodenheimer said.

Details of the deal include no change in the number of
national regular-season telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2 -- about 80
a year -- but exclusivity on Sunday nights and regular-season
games (not exclusive) on Mondays and Wednesdays.

It also gives ESPN continuing rights to the Home Run Derby
and other All-Star programing, though Fox has carried the
All-Star Game itself. "Baseball Tonight" and "SportsCenter"
will continue to show highlights from games in progress and a
new Monday afternoon show will focus on batting practice from
the scene of the Monday night game.

ESPN has carried baseball since 1990.

This is the first of MLB's next round of rights deals.
Outstanding is the big national broadcast package, held by Fox,
that includes much of the postseason, the All-Star Game and 18
Saturday afternoon games that runs through the end of 2006.
Turner's deal with baseball for a national platform for Atlanta
Braves games on TBS runs through the end of the 2007 season.

Looming out of view for now is the possibility of Comcast's
OLN (Outdoor Life Network) getting into the act, too. OLN
recently picked up a multiyear rights deal to the NHL and is
rumored to be looking at baseball as another step toward
challenging ESPN's dominance in sports media.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't swing at that pitch
when questioned Wednesday, saying only that the new agreement
with ESPN gives MLB the flexibility to proceed with other
national deals. The only other national deal is with Turner
right now. Selig said baseball would proceed "in our very
cautious but aggressive manner."

Bodenheimer was more circumspect. He said OLN wasn't a
factor at all.

"I'm only looking at it in the context of what it does for
my company," Bodenheimer said.

Games also could appear on the Baseball Channel, which is
MLB's planned cable channel devoted to baseball a la NFL
Network and NBA TV. MLB hasn't yet set a date on when the
channel will be launched, but it's possible that some games
could appear on that.

"We preserved our rights to that," MLB president and chief
operating officer Bob Dupuy said.

Bodenheimer said with the baseball -- and ESPN's taking
over of Monday Night Football beginning next fall -- that
Monday will be a powerhouse for ESPN. He said that to avoid
conflicts between football and baseball, there was the
possibility that ESPN would move baseball to ESPN2.

"We haven't firmed up precisely how and when we're going to
do that," Bodenheimer said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter