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Fox’s Prime Time Helped by Deal

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Fox and Turner Sports have 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.

As a result of the deals, which kick in next year, the interruption to Fox’s fall prime-time entertainment schedule that plagues the broadcaster’s new season launches will be shortened by at least a couple of weeks.

Fox will pay about $250 million annually for seven years for its baseball package, according to a source familiar with the transaction. Terms of the Turner baseball deal were not disclosed, but sources said Turner paid about $110 million per year.

The Fox deal includes the All-Star Game, the Saturday exclusive game-of-the-week package (expanded to 26 weeks from 18) and one League Championship Series per season, airing the National League series in even-numbered years and the American League in odd-numbered years.

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. “Hopefully we’ll be able to announce that in a short period of time.”

David Levy, president of Turner Sports, said Turner was among those interested in the League Championship Series, and Fox Sports President Ed Goren said Fox might agree to take some of the games.

With the new agreements, Fox aimed 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.

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

The pact also gives Fox’s entertainment division additional time slots in the fall. Fox will take its usual break from entertainment programming for four to five weeks this fall. But starting in fall 2007, the coverage will amount to a two-to three-week stint starting later in the fall than it does now. As a result, the broadcaster still has baseball as a promotional platform but minimizes the disruption to its lineup. 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 switch the schedule 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. Turner will continue to air some Braves games locally on its Atlanta TV station WTBS-TV.

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 been in the past. Most playoff games will be televised on TBS, and when games are scheduled simultaneously, a second game will run on TNT.

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

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

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,” the spokesman said.

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.