Braves TBS Baseball
|Braves Baseball on TBS|
|Format||Major League Baseball|
Pete Van Wieren
The Atlanta Braves
(for more, see below)
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||3 hours|
|Original run||April 1973
– September 30, 2007|
(occasional broadcasts as part of leaguewide package since)
Braves TBS Baseball or Braves Baseball on TBS was a Major League Baseball broadcast on the TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) cable network by Turner Sports, featuring Atlanta Braves regular season games. The program, which made its debut in 1973, ended national broadcasts in 2007.
TBS phased out its national coverage of Braves baseball after striking a contract to broadcast other regular season and playoff Major League Baseball games (as Major League Baseball on TBS). Many Braves games will now only be broadcast regionally on SportSouth, FSN South, and Peachtree TV. In spite of this, some of the games broadcast by TBS since 2008 have indeed featured the Braves.
Coverage of the formerly-Ted Turner-owned Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team was perhaps TBS' signature program in its early years. Braves games began on WTCG when the station was simply a traditional UHF outlet on channel 17, during the 1973 season. Turner shocked observers of the Atlanta media market by acquiring the rights to Braves games after the 1972 season, taking them from WSB-TV, then an NBC affiliate, who had carried them since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966 (however, WSB-TV's radio sister, WSB (AM), continued to hold audio rights for years afterward). The acquisition of Braves broadcasting rights was particularly striking given WTCG's history of losing large amounts of money ever since Turner took over the station in 1970; the station was only then starting to break even and become competitive among Atlanta viewers. Even more astonishing, some years later, Turner would buy the team outright before the 1976 season, mainly to keep a programming staple of his in Atlanta. Before the sale, rumors had spread alleging that the Braves' owners were looking to move the franchise to another city, following dismal attendance in 1974 and 1975, after the excitement of Hank Aaron hitting his then-record-breaking 715th home run on April 8, 1974 wore off.
Prior to the landmark event of getting WTCG/WTBS' signal on a satellite for distribution to cable systems throughout the U.S., Turner syndicated live games throughout the 1970s to stations (mostly network affiliates, as the region had few independent stations) throughout Georgia and adjoining states, including Turner's WRET (now WCNC-TV) in Charlotte, North Carolina, as WSB-TV had previously done. Usually, the Sunday afternoon game and one game during evening prime time were provided to local stations, with mid-week games airing mainly during the summer rerun season on the networks, a normal practice among the other MLB teams during that era. Also, by the mid-1970s, WTCG had already become available on many cable systems in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina via microwave relay transmission by the mid-1970s, giving the team even further TV exposure to its loyal Southern fans. When WTCG reached a significant penetration of Southern homes, c. 1978-1979, Turner discontinued syndicating, making the Braves the first team to provide no live coverage of its games to traditional terrestrial TV stations other than that in its home market.
Turner once famously tried to get Andy Messersmith to use his jersey, which was numbered 17, to promote TBS in its early years. The back of the jersey read, "CHANNEL 17." Major League Baseball immediately stopped this plan because, according to MLB rules, team jerseys are not supposed to have advertising other than that of the jersey manufacturer.
1980s and early 1990s
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Braves games on TBS recorded high ratings, usually around a 2.0 and sometimes even higher. This was the time when the station termed them, in a promotional campaign, "America's team."
WTBS petitioned for the rights to produce a locally-originated broadcast of the 1982 National League Championship Series, played between the Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. Following a decision from U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Major League Baseball blocked them from doing so on grounds that as a cable superstation, TBS could not have a nationwide telecast competing with the network coverage of the NLCS, which was carried that year by ABC. Following the 1983 season, Major League Baseball no longer permitted local television stations from producing their own League Championship Series broadcasts (the games were already seen over-the-air anyway).
In 1997, TBS began to collect subscriber fees directly from cable operators, effectively making the national feed operating under the conventions of a basic cable network, though still technically a superstation. In exchange, TBS began to lease advertising slots to cable operators to carry local commercials; as a result the channel began to broadcast fewer Atlanta Braves season games to a national audience.
In 2003, Braves games on TBS began to undergo significant change for the first time in many years. Don Sutton and Joe Simpson assumed duties as lead commentators, while longtime play-by-play men Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren had their roles cut back. The slogan Braves Baseball on TBS was replaced by Major League Baseball on TBS. After the All-Star Break, TBS brought back Skip and Pete to work with the two analysts while in the following year, the title reverted to Braves Baseball on TBS.
These changes reflected increased rights fee payments to Major League Baseball. In turn, national sponsors could fulfill their advertising commitments by purchasing ads on TBS, in addition to ESPN or Fox.
Braves TBS Xtra
Starting in 2004, some TBS telecasts (mostly Fridays or Saturdays) became more enhanced. The network decided to call it Braves TBS Xtra, which Braves broadcaster Skip Caray would refer to simply as "one of those super duper telecasts".
Enhancements included catcher cam, Xtra Motion showing the type of pitch and movement, and also leadOff Line. Often, there would be a guest analyst in the booth and features with inside access to players were also shown.
While just carrying 70 Braves games on TBS, TBS sold Turner South to Fox Sports, and let them keep the games (Turner South had been carrying games in order to ensure wide distribution in the Southeast). After that, the FSN South broadcasters did all Turner South Telecasts, which was renamed SportSouth later in the year to distinguish it from FSN South. FSN South's 25 game package (usually on Wednesdays) is a vestige of its days as the former SportSouth (launched by Turner), as well as a means to ensure that ESPN's game would generally be the only one seen nationwide on Wednesdays without subscribing to MLB Extra Innings. With the decision to allow FSN to broadcast over 85 games, TBS was no longer the Braves' primary broadcaster. Coupled with the impending sale of the team, Pete Van Wieren said, "It's like an end of an era." At the end of the 2006 season, Turner Sports decided not to renew analyst Don Sutton's contract with the network, while Ron Gant joined FSN South/SportSouth on a full-time basis, meaning that Joe Simpson would be the main analyst for all Braves telecasts.
During the 2006 season, all Braves home games on TBS were broadcast in high definition to viewers on WTBS-DT in Atlanta and throughout the Southeast on cable packages (e.g. Comcast and Charter). It appears that the cable deals were not renewed as no TBS home games have been broadcast in HD in 2007 (all home games on FSN South/SportSouth are in HD on both cable and satellite). However, TBS' new national package resulted in the creation of a dedicated HD feed.
2007 and beyond
The 2007 season marked the last year of Braves baseball on TBS in a fully national feed, covering 70 Braves games as in recent years. From 2008 until 2013, the Atlanta market will get 45 Braves games per season on Peachtree TV. Those games are available to be aired in the Braves regional territory and on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast. The remaining games will air on FSN South or SportSouth, meaning the Braves will now revert to primarily regional coverage, as most other teams have done ever since recent expansions gave MLB a virtually nationwide footprint. However, due to licensing requirements preventing the national cable version of TBS to be shown in Canada, WPCH is still carried on Canadian cable and satellite systems as a superstation, still allowing Braves games aired by WPCH to be seen outside of the Atlanta area. This move left Chicago's WGN America as the only superstation to broadcast local teams to a national audience.
Previously, TBS had announced a deal to air those same 45 games nationally, before signing their new contract for national Sunday afternoon and playoff games, Major League Baseball on TBS. Some of the national games could end up including the Braves - indeed the Braves have appeared on a few telecasts since 2008.
The final game of Braves TBS Baseball after 32 years was aired on September 30, when the Braves played at the Houston Astros. The Braves lost 3–0. On the final broadcast Skip Caray thanked fans saying, "To all you people who have watched the Braves for these 30 years ... thank you. We appreciate you more than you will ever know. ... Thank you folks and God bless you. And we're going to miss you every bit as much as you miss us."
- Chip Caray (2005–2007), Play-by-play
- Skip Caray (1976–2007), Play-by-Play
- Marc Fein (2004–2007), Host
- Joe Simpson (1992–2007), Analyst
- Hank Aaron (1980), Analyst
- Erin Andrews (2001–2003), Host
- Darrell Chaney (1982), Analyst
- Ron Gant (2004–2006), Analyst
- Milo Hamilton (1973-1975), Play-by-play
- Ernie Johnson Sr. (1973–1999), Play-by-play/Analyst
- Ernie Johnson Jr. (1993–1996), Host
- Dave O'Brien (1990–1991), Play-by-play
- Billy Sample (1988–1989), Analyst
- John Sterling (1982–1987), Play-by-play
- Don Sutton (1989–2006), Analyst
- Pete Van Wieren (1976–2006), Play-by-play
- Lonnie Dale, Director
- Glenn Diamond (1982–2007), Coordinating Producer
- Hal Gaalema, Stat Man
- Hal Kickliter, Camera Man
- Gary Lehman, Director
- Renardo Lowe, Director
Due to Major League Baseball's restriction, most Braves games were blacked out on TBS within about 35-50 air miles of the opposing team's stadium, meaning games available on local television (except for the Atlanta area, where WTBS was the exclusive channel for Atlanta Braves games when not airing on FSN South or SportSouth) was not seen on TBS. This blackout rule was somewhat less restrictive than that for ESPN, which covers all of a team's designated market.
- Associated Press (October 1, 1982). "Kuhn Out to Stop Braves Broadcasts". Tuscaloosa News. p. 14.
- United Press International (October 5, 1982). "Judge Bars WTBS From Braves Games". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. p. 10B.
- Associated Press (October 6, 1982). "Turner Is Denied Review of Order". New York Times.
- United Press International (October 5, 1982). "Turner Telecasts Enjoined by Court". New York Times.
- Turner Superstation to Collect Cable TV Fees, The New York Times, August 1, 1997.
- TBS truly goes national with national pastime, leaving Braves behind[dead link]
- End of an era for TBS, Braves, fans[dead link]
- "FOX Sports South and SportSouth acquire 45 additional Braves games beginning this season". Fox Sports South. Retrieved 7 September 2013.