January 31, 2006

World Baseball Classic to air on ESPN

By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - ESPN will carry the
inaugural World Baseball Classic, a 16-country tournament
designed to crown baseball's world champion among the best
players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the United States
and elsewhere.

The tournament, a joint venture of Major League Baseball
and its players union, will feature a number of the game's
biggest stars playing for their home countries or territories.
Teams include Cuba, the United States, the Dominican Republic,
Puerto Rico, China, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

The initial rounds -- played in Japan, Puerto Rico, Arizona
and Florida -- will give way to quarterfinals in Puerto Rico
and Anaheim, Calif., before the semifinals March 18 and final
game March 20 at San Diego's PetCo Park.

ESPN or ESPN2 will carry at least 16 games, including the
semifinals and the championship in the month before MLB's
season opener, which will also air on ESPN. Another 14 games
will be syndicated. And the rights deal will be a home run for
ESPN Desportes, the company's Spanish-language network that
will carry all 39 games.

The baseball world's reaction to the World Baseball Classic
has been decidedly mixed. There was initial excitement about
the idea, which would pit players from the Dominican Republic
against the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy and China,
among others. But with the games happening in the middle of
spring training, before the regular season starts, there's
concern that players who participate could get hurt or at least
worn down later in the season.

A number of high profile players -- including Barry Bonds
-- have bowed out. But others, like Ichiro Suzuki, David Ortiz
and Pedro Martinez, are scheduled to play for their home
country's teams. Tim Brosnan, executive vp of Major League
Baseball, said Monday that there's been a lot of interest with
four times the number of applications for press credentials
that the typical World Series receives.

Financial terms of the deal weren't announced. While ESPN
was rumored to have the inside track, Brosnan said MLB had
talked to a number of media companies about the domestic
rights. No one knows what the ratings are likely to be, coming
so soon after the Winter Olympics, taking place in the same
month as the NCAA's March Madness basketball and even ESPN and
other channels' coverage of spring-training games.

"We're not venturing to guess a rating," Brosnan said.
"We're very encouraged that ESPN has put it on the air, we're
very encouraged with the response to sales right now."

Brosnan stressed the worldwide nature of the games, which
are translating into media rights in a number of countries like
Canada, Japan, China, Latin America and Europe. ESPN
International has the rights in Latin America, Australia, New
Zealand, Africa, the Middle East and Israel.

ESPN will also have multiple platform coverage here in the
United States, including ESPN360 broadband, ESPN.com and Mobile


Reuters/Hollywood Reporter