Major League Baseball and ESPN today announced the largest broadcast deal in league history with a new eight-year, $5.6 billion agreement ($700 million annually) that will carry their longstanding relationship into its fourth decade. The agreement sets the standard going forward for Major League Baseball broadcasting as ESPN’s annual rights fee will increase by 100% over its current deals ($306 million annually), marking a new all-time record for an MLB broadcasting deal. The deal grants ESPN, which first began televising Major League Baseball games in 1990, a significant increase in studio and game content, including the right to broadcast up to 90 regular season MLB games per year across the ESPN networks beginning in 2014 and running through the 2021 season. ESPN will continue to telecast three Major League Baseball windows each week including Monday nights, Wednesday nights, and the nationally exclusive “Sunday Night Baseball” franchise.
Not accounting for any expenses in the deal, each of the 30 clubs in the league would share equally in the revenue which comes to $23.33 million annually, up from $10.2 million in the deal prior.
In addition, ESPN will once again televise Postseason baseball, beginning in 2014 with one of the two Wild Card Games presented by Budweiser. ESPN will alternate airing the American League and National League Wild Card Games each year. Also starting in 2014, ESPN will have the rights to all potential regular season tiebreaker games. This new agreement covers television and radio rights to MLB programming both in the U.S. and internationally, and will include expanded hours of Baseball Tonight and other ancillary baseball programming across ESPN platforms. In addition, ESPN MLB game telecasts and other baseball programming will be available via ESPN3.com and the Watch ESPN app. ESPN has also made a commitment to showcase each of the 30 MLB Clubs at least once per season in a live game telecast.
Commissioner Selig was more than happy with the deal reached.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am thrilled that we will continue our long-standing relationship with ESPN far into the future. The level of ESPN’s commitment to baseball – both financially and through its expanded content – is a testament to the strength of our game and its unprecedented popularity among our fans,” Selig said. “Through its various networks and other media platforms, ESPN offers baseball fans more avenues to experience the game than ever before, and we’re thankful for their continued support.”
ESPN President John Skipper said: “We’re thrilled to renew our long-standing agreement with Major League Baseball into the next decade. It’s a great property. The enormous scope of what we acquired will provide fans with more live baseball and more ways to access baseball content than ever before.”
Additional details of the agreement include:
- ESPN will continue to have exclusive television rights to certain MLB All-Star Week events including the State Farm Home Run Derby and Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game.
- A nationally exclusive Opening Night national telecast, as well as full coverage of Opening Day and national holiday games (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day).
- Up to 10 Spring Training games each season.
- In each year of the agreement, ESPN will air six one-hour specials created by Major League Baseball Productions, the Emmy Award-winning television and video production division of Major League Baseball.
A larger question was how the digital aspect of the deal impacts MLB Advanced Media who oversees MLB.com. A cash-cow for the league, questions of competition come with the new agreement.
Addressing the media, Selig said he has been amazed at the growth of MLBAM and that “you won’t recognize it” in ten to twelve years, a reference to its growth.
Bob Bowman, the CEO of MLBAM said, “We couldn’t ask for a better partner and competitor than ESPN,” adding that he did not see it adversely impacting the digital rights arm of baseball.
And then there’s the issue of the exclusivity agreements that impact the league’s blackout policy via the MLB Extra Innings television package or MLB.TV, the now decade-old digital streaming of games. With the increase to 90 games a season, more Sunday games will be blacked out nationally. And while the blackout issue on Sunday evenings for ESPN has been difficult, it is nationally televised Saturday day games on FOX that has created the biggest blackout issue. To that, ESPN is really the first of three national broadcast deals that will be addressed shortly as the deals with FOX and TBS still have yet to be addressed. It could be as late asthe end of 2013 when the contracts expire before those addressed.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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