Final Negotiations Before MLB Moves to DirecTV

Mar 27, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Accused by several senators of putting baseball’s economics ahead of its fans, Major League Baseball agreed to hold one last negotiating session with cable and satellite providers before moving its Extra Innings out of market games exclusively to DirecTV.

With the baseball season’s start just four days away, the last minute meeting requested by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was reluctantly OK’d, though there were no promises made about changing the DirecTV deal.

The Extra Innings package of up to 60 out of market games a week has been available to cable subscribers and EchoStar’s DishTV subscribers, who will lose access if the MLB’s deal with DirecTV goes ahead unaltered.

Robert A. DuPuy, president-CEO of MLB, repeatedly told senators that the DirecTV rivals had nine months to make a deal and only DirecTV had stepped forward. Mr. DuPuy said that because of senators earlier concerns, MLB had already offered to extend the deal to rivals under certain conditions.

The meeting agreement capped an unusual Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday in which intricate details of the carriage negotiations between baseball and satellite and cable system operators — including dollars to be paid — were publicly aired.

Mr. DuPuy acknowledged MLB — having seen the NFL and the NBA’s woes in getting their channels carried — used the Extra Innings negotiations to try to ensure The Baseball Channel gets airing. DirecTV agreed to pay $100 million a year for 7 years and get a 20% ownership in the new channel, which launches in 2009.

Senators including Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., for two hours on Tuesday questioned whether baseball was acting in the public or its fans interest, even as they acknowledged its economic reasoning.

They cited the difficulties sports fans in apartment buildings with common cable systems will have switching to DirecTV and the expensive options it could present some sports fans. In the Philadelphia area where Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia isn’t available on satellite TV, Sen. Lautenberg said avid sports fans would have to subscribe to both local cable and DirecTV, essentially paying twice for cable.

Sen. Kerry, a Boston Redsox fan, pleaded with MLB to take action.

“We are here because this is driven by economics rather than the public interest,” said Sen. Kerry.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also attended the hearing and urged MLB take action. He said the proposed deal further fuels his concerns about sports on TV and MLB’s current anti trust exemption.

“I have great concerns about what is happening in pay TV,” he said.

(Editor: Romanelli)