Fox, Turner Reach New Baseball Agreements

Jul 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Fox and Turner Sports announced new agreements with Major League Baseball that keep the World Series on Fox and create a game of the week package on Turner, which will also televise the divisional playoff series.

Fox is paying about $250 million annually for seven years for its baseball package, according to a source familiar with the transaction. The Fox deal includes the All-Star Game, the Saturday exclusive game-of-the-week package (expanded to 26 weeks from 18 weeks) and one League Championship Series per season, airing the National League series in even-numbered years and the American League in odd-numbered years.

Fox had wanted to maintain its relationship with baseball while limiting its payments for expensive sports rights. Under the new arrangement, Fox will no longer televise the divisional playoffs and will broadcast fewer League Championship Series games, giving its entertainment division additional time slots in the fall.

“Our mandate was if we were going to sign a deal, we better sign a negotiated deal where we go in knowing and believing that we’re going to make money,” said Fox Sports President Ed Goren.

Mr. Goren said it was also a good deal for baseball, because the league was able to get some rights back from Fox, including some playoff series, and put them on the open market, netting significant increases from cable.

“They will hit or exceed their financial expectations in these negotiations,” he said.

Baseball will also be switching the schedule of for the World Series to try to boost viewership. Instead of starting on Sunday, the World Series starting in 2007 will begin on Tuesday night. That means one fewer game will be played on low-rated Saturday nights. The schedule shift will also give Fox’s ad sales staff more time to drum up interest in games six and seven when they occur, Mr. Goren said.

Turner Sports, which currently televises Atlanta Braves games, will replace the Braves with a national package of games.

Next season, Turner will begin televising baseball’s divisional series on an exclusive basis, which means the games will not be covered by local broadcast outlets as they have in the past. Most playoff games will air on TBS, and when games are scheduled simultaneously, a second game will air on TNT.

In 2008, TBS will begin a Sunday afternoon game of the week. Games will be blacked out in local markets and be replaced by a backup game on TBS.

“The opportunity to take the division series exclusively with no local syndication was something we really wanted,” said David Levy, president of Turner Sports. Having regularly scheduled Sunday games during the regular season, compared to the sporadic Braves broadcasts, will build appointment viewing, he added. TBS will also air an all-star selection show and any regular season tie-breaker games that might be necessary.

Terms of the Turner baseball deal were not disclosed.

Negotiations continue to determine which network will air the second League Championship Series.

“That’s the last piece of the journey to be solved,” said Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. “We have a significant number of people who want to have the last component. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce that in a short period of time.”

Mr. Levy said that Turner was among those interested in the League Championship Series, and Mr. Goren said Fox could agree to take some of the games.

The latest deals appear to leave ESPN, which carries baseball games in the regular season, out of the playoff mix.

“Our fall programming is already strong,” an ESPN spokesman said. The network was also talking to the league and is “always interested in deals that provide good value.”

He said ESPN and Major League Baseball could not agree on an acceptable price for the division games and the cable sports network was outbid by Turner.

The agreements announced today reflect viewer interest in baseball, Mr. Selig said.

“The new contract with Fox and Turner reflect the great popularity of our game and reinforce baseball’s position as the nation’s pastime,” he said.