The evolving realm of sports broadcasting rights has become more and more sophisticated in recent years. Networks have been paying millions and even billions of dollars to buy the rights to televise certain sporting leagues and events. With the number of television channels increasing, networks have branched out and created sports-dedicated channels such as NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network.
MLB’s most recent broadcasting rights belong to ESPN, FOX and TBS. ESPN, the longest tenured partnership, has rights to broadcast Wednesday and Sunday night games and occasional Monday night games. FOX has the rights to Saturday afternoon (or recently moved to evening) games, the All-Star Game, one of two League Championship Series and the World Series. Since 2007, TBS owns the rights to the Sunday afternoon game, exclusive rights to the Division Series and one of the League Championship Series.
All three of MLB’s network rights are scheduled to end at the conclusion of the 2013 season, which means all of MLB’s television rights are up for grabs.
A little over a week ago, it was announced that ESPN and MLB signed a new eight-year deal which allows the “World Wide leader of Sports” to keep their current rights and in addition, broadcast one of two Wild Card games each season. Reportedly, ESPN will pay $5.6 billion to keep these broadcasting rights, when they are currently paying approximately $306 million. This will be the first time since 2006 that ESPN will broadcast postseason baseball.
So what does it mean for MLB’s remaining broadcasting rights?
As expected, FOX and TBS are going to bid to keep their rights. But there’s a twist.
Sources close to the situation say that MLB would like to make one deal with a “major media giant,” which would allow them to hold all broadcasting rights to MLB’s game of the week, postseason and All-Star Games.
FOX is considered a “major media giant” but it is unknown whether the network would be willing to commit to broadcasting that much MLB coverage on its main network. Rumors have circled that FOX maybe rebranding its Speed channel to an all-sports network (similar to what NBC did with Versus, now NBC Sports Network). This would allow FOX’s proposed all-sports network to broadcast all of the Division Series, with the major LCS and World Series to be televised on the main network.
Where does this leave TBS (Turner Sports)? As many of you know, Turner Sports currently partners with CBS for their dual coverage of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. This leads some to believe that the two networks could partner up to obtain MLB’s rights. CBS hasn’t broadcasted a MLB game since game six of the1993 World Series.
CBS previously held MLB rights from 1990-1993 and from 1955-1965, so they are no strangers to baseball. Some project that if Turner/CBS were to win the rights, that CBS would be used to televise the bigger games such as all of the World Series, All-Star Games and one of the LCS. One major drawback for CBS is that it reportedly lost half of its investment in its last MLB deal, which was roughly $1.06 billion.
But if you know anything about sports broadcasting, it’s not that easy. Enter NBC. Many of you may not know that MLB and NBC use to go hand in hand, as NBC was once the number one in prime time baseball coverage. NBC held MLB rights 1947-1989 and again from 1996-2000.
With NBC expanding their sports division by creating the NBC Sports Network, it is likely they will join the highly priced bidding war. NBC is constantly looking for more sports programming to air on NBCSN in order to become a major player in the sports television world. The Comcast/Universal group which owns NBC has been on the outs in gaining sports broadcasting rights. Not only did NBC lose out on the Pac-12 Conference rights but also one of it’s premier events, Wimbledon, to its competitor ESPN. NBC needs baseball. NBCSN recently debuted a documentary series called Caught Looking which is produced by MLB. Caught Looking goes behind the scenes of one of the major ongoing series in MLB each week. Many believe this is a precursor that NBC will be making a bid on the upcoming MLB rights. A potential NBC and MLB deal could look similar to what Turner/CBS proposes. The main network, NBC, would televise the World Series, LCS and All-Star Game and NBCSN would get all of the Division Series.
Personally, I’d like to see NBC get the rights. I remember watching MLB games on NBC as a child and enjoyed what they had to offer. FOX has been MLB’s broadcasting partner for some 14 years now and I’m just sick of them. FOX’s No. 1 announcing crew, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, seem to be getting worse year after year.
It is expected that this bidding war will be resolved by the end of September or early October.
Follow on Twitter @Midwaymadness