Baseball Doubles Down

Fox, Turner Deals Complete Lucrative Television Renewals




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In case you need a reminder why Bud Selig will be commissioner for as long as he likes, simply consider the following figure: $12.4 billion.

That is the revenue MLB's new national television-rights deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner will generate over eight years, beginning in 2014. Selig announced the deals with Fox and Turner during a conference call with reporters today, roughly five weeks after announcing the agreement with ESPN. The three deals taken together more than double the rights fees MLB receives from the same three networks in its current agreements.

It is difficult to disagree with Selig when he says baseball has never been healthier, with revenue at an all-time high. Money from the national television deals is spread equally among the 30 major league clubs.

The new contracts begin in 2014 and will run through the 2021 season. Fox's rights fees will increase from $250 million to about $500 million a year, while Turner's go from $150 million to about $325 million. The earlier deal with ESPN increased its annual rights fees from $350 million to about $700 million.

"In a season that saw increased attendance, having our best year now since 2008, we have a record high revenue, competitive balance is stronger than I could ever have dreamed, we're in the midst of a lot of labor peace, so it's only fitting that we announce the successful completion of our national television deals today," Selig said. "The value of these deals is a manifestation of how far this sport has come, and it's a reflection of how great a year we have had on the field."

Fox will continue to broadcast the World Series and All-Star Game. It will share the rest of the postseason with Turner, ESPN and MLB Network, with Fox and Turner each taking one League Championship Series and two Division Series per year, alternating between the American League and National League. MLB Network will broadcast two Division Series games a year (taken from one of Fox's series), and ESPN will get one of the two Wild Card Games (Turner gets the other).

Right now Turner carries all four Division Series, save for two games on MLB Network, and it will have both Wild Card Games.

Fox's increased programming extends beyond the postseason, as beginning in 2014 it will have rights to 52 regular season games, up from 26. Just 12 of these are guaranteed to the Fox Network itself, however, as the other 40 are slated for "another nationally distributed FOX channel."

Essentially doubling both its in-season and postseason baseball inventory adds to the speculation that Fox is about to launch a new sports network. Reports in several outlets say the company will rebrand its Speed network, which now focuses on racing, to become an ESPN-style, all-sports channel.

Of interest to the growing number of fans who watch games online and on mobile devices, Fox's telecasts will no longer be blacked out to MLB Extra Innings and MLB.tv. Blackouts for regional networks will continue, as those were not addressed in the national television contracts.

"We will certainly review that as time goes on," Selig said of the regional blackouts, "but at the moment everything will stay pretty much the same."

In addition to landing two Division Series games, MLB Network will also take over coverage of the Futures Game from ESPN.

"The addition of these games for us is really critical, and shows the commitment of the commissioner to the growth of the network," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said. "Obviously, there is a relationship between strength of content and growth in distribution, and we feel this is a very important quality content to help in that task. It's an important showcase for us."