Major League Baseball on cable television
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On July 17, 1964, a game out of Los Angeles between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers contest became the first Pay TV baseball game. Subscription television offered the cablecast to subscribers for money. (The Dodgers beat the Cubs by the score of 3–2, with Don Drysdale collecting 10 strikeouts.)
In the 1970s the cable revolution began. The Atlanta Braves became a power contender with greater revenues generated by WTBS, Ted Turner's Atlanta-based Superstation, that broadcast "America's Team" to cable households nationwide.
In 1980, 22 teams (all but the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals) took part in a one-year cable deal with UA-Columbia (then owners of the USA Network). The deal involved the airing of a Thursday night Game of the Week in markets at least 50 miles (80 km) from a major league park. The deal earned Major League Baseball less than $500,000, but led to a new two-year contract for 40–45 games per season.
On January 5, 1989, Major League Baseball signed a $400 million deal with ESPN, who would show over 175 games in beginning in 1990. For the next four years, ESPN would televise six games a week (Sunday, Wednesday Night Baseball, doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus holidays).
NBC's Bob Costas believed that a large bulk of the regular season coverage beginning in the 1990s went to cable because CBS, the network that was taking over from NBC the television rights beginning in 1990, didn't really want the Saturday Game of the Week.
ESPN's early Major League Baseball coverage
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The roll out of ESPN, then Fox Sports changed sports news and particularly affected baseball. Potboiled down to the thirty-second game highlight, and now under the microscope of news organizations that needed to fill 24 hours of time, the amount of attention paid to major league players magnified to staggering levels from where it had been just 20 years prior. It brought with it increased attention for individual players, who reached superstar status nationwide on careers that often were not as compelling as those who had come before them in a less media intense time.
On April 15, 1990, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball with the experienced Jon Miller and Joe Morgan debuted. In its first year, Sunday Night Baseball averaged a 3.0 rating. That was double the number that ESPN as a whole was averaging at the time (1.5). By 1998, ESPN enjoyed its largest baseball audience ever (a 9.5 Nielsen rating) as Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run of the season.
When ESPN first broadcast Sunday Night Baseball, they would show at least one game from every ballpark. Also, every team was guaranteed an appearance. It was essentially, the TV equivalent to a cross country stadium tour.
In 1994, ESPN renewed its baseball contract for six years (through the 1999 season). The new deal was worth $42.5 million per year and $255 million overall. The deal was ultimately voided after the 1995 season and ESPN was pretty much forced to restructure their contract.
ESPN broadcasts the postseason
When Major League Baseball opted to add an additional round of playoff action beginning in 1994, WTBS offered $40–$45 million/year for rights to another round of playoffs. Instead, the Division Series initially aired under the "Baseball Network" umbrella.
In 1996, ESPN began a five-year contract with Major League Baseball worth $440 million and about $80 million per year. ESPN paid for the rights to a Wednesday doubleheader and the Sunday night Game of the Week, as well as all postseason games not aired on FOX or NBC. Major League Baseball staggered the times of first-round games to provide a full-day feast for viewers: ESPN could air games at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 11 p.m. EDT, with the broadcast networks telecasting the prime time game.
Beginning in 1997, Fox entered a four-year joint venture with Liberty Media Cable worth $172 million. The deal called for two games a week that aired games on its choice of two weeknights other than Wednesday, with no exclusivity.
ESPN and ESPN2 had contracts (which were signed in 2000 and ran through 2005) to show selected weeknight and Sunday night games, along with selected Division Series playoff games. The contracts with ESPN were worth $141.8 million per year and $851 million overall. After Disney bought Fox Family (who from 2000–2001 aired Thursday night games) in 2002 to become ABC Family the Division Series games aired on ABC Family (with ESPN's announcers, graphics, and music) for one year. ESPN then added the extra playoff games and Thursday night package to its lineup.
The Fox Broadcasting Company's sister network FX aired numerous Major League Baseball contests on Saturday nights in 2001.
OLN was briefly considering picking up the rights to the Sunday and Wednesday games, which expired after the 2005 season. On September 14, 2005 however, ESPN, then the current rights holder, signed an eight-year contract with Major League Baseball, highlighted by the continuation of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball series with additional, exclusive team appearances. The key details of the agreement were:
- Up to 80 regular-season telecasts per year;
- No blackout restrictions on exclusive Sunday Night Baseball; Monday Night Baseball, with ESPN mostly coexisting with local carriers
- Up to five appearances per team per year on the exclusive Sunday Night Baseball series, up from 11 over three years;
- Daily Baseball Tonight programs – one of ESPN's most popular series—including the continued right to show in-progress highlights and live cut-ins;
- MLB Home Run Derby, ESPN's highest-rated program of the summer and one of cable's best, and additional All-Star programming;
- Continuation of season-long Wednesday baseball on ESPN and ESPN2
- A new afternoon batting practice program, generally from the site of ESPN's Monday night telecast;
- For the first time, the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter presents a nightly Baseball Tonight update featuring in-progress highlights;
- Select games and MLB All-Star events on ESPN2 throughout the season;
- 10 spring training games and MLB Opening Day coverage;
- Telecast rights for ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN International;
- Ability to include MLB programming as part of the delivery of the ESPN networks via cable, satellite and other new or developing technologies, such as cell phones and wireless devices;
- Archival footage and game programming and Instant Classic rights for ESPN Classic.
ESPN's Monday and Wednesday telecasts would be mostly nonexclusive, meaning the games also can be televised by each club's local broadcasters. Wednesday games will be blacked out in the teams' local markets (and anywhere their broadcasters reach), except if they would otherwise go untelevised. Monday games will usually see ESPN co-exist with local broadcasters. The Sunday games remain on ESPN only, and with ESPN gaining the rights to Monday Night Football telecasts, Sunday Night Baseball currently runs uninterrupted throughout the season.
The sport averages $296 million under the new agreement, a television and a baseball official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement in the deal. ESPN paid baseball $273.5 million in 2006, increasing to $293.5 million in each of the following four years, $308.5 million in 2011 and $306 million in each of the final two seasons.
After weeks of speculation and rumors, on July 11, 2006 at the All-Star Game, Major League baseball announced that Time Warner's TBS will gain rights to a Sunday afternoon Game of the Week beginning in the 2008 season. TBS will be allowed to choose the games that it will carry and may select a single team up to 13 times. TBS also will gain exclusive broadcast rights to the Division Series in both leagues starting in 2007, as well as any tiebreakers starting with the 2007 season. On October 18, 2006, Major League Baseball announced that TBS will also carry the other League Championship Series. (Through the 2006 season, ESPN had national broadcast rights to tiebreakers, and ESPN and Fox shared coverage of the Division Series, with ESPN covering the majority of the games, while Fox was guaranteed the 8:00 p.m. Eastern slot most nights.) TBS also gained the rights to the All-Star Game Selection Show, formerly on ESPN.
As part of the agreement, the network also announced that it will no longer cover the Atlanta Braves on an exclusive national basis after the 2007 season. Games will be subject to blackout in the teams' markets, but local broadcasters can still air the games. TBS would carry 70 Braves games in the 2007 season, in addition to the postseason package, but beginning in 2008 will only carry the Sunday game on a national basis.
However, WTBS (now WPCH-TV) could still carry up to 45 games within the Braves' six-state geographical area (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi). These games could conceivably air nationally as part of the MLB Extra Innings package.
Enter Fox Sports 1
On September 19, 2012, Sports Business Daily reported that Major League Baseball would agree to separate eight-year television deals with Fox Sports and Turner Sports through the 2021 season. Fox would reportedly pay around $4 billion over eight years (close to $500 million per year) while Turner would pay around $2.8 billion over eight years (more than $300 million per year). Under the new deals reported that Major League Baseball would agree to separate eight-year television deals, Fox and TBS' coverage would essentially be the same as in the 2007–2013 contract with the exception of Fox and TBS splitting coverage of the Division Series, which TBS has broadcast exclusively dating back to 2007. More importantly, Fox would carry some of the games (such as the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week) on its all-sports channel, Fox Sports 1, which launched on August 17, 2013., Sources also said it was possible that Fox would sell some League Division Series games to MLB Network.
- 12 Saturday afternoon games on Fox (down from 26).
- 40 games on cable outlets (Fox Sports 1; Fox Sports 2 or FX for overflow).
- Major League Baseball on regional sports networks
- Major League Baseball on superstations
- The USA Thursday Game of the Week
- ESPN Major League Baseball
- Major League Baseball on Fox
- Major League Baseball on TBS
- MLB Network
- Ourand, John & Fisher, Eric (September 19, 2012). "Fox, Turner To Renew MLB Packages; MLB Net Could Get LDS Games". SportsBusinessDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
- "SBD: FOX, Turner, Will Keep Current MLB TV Packages; Fox Sports 1 Will Get Games". Sports Media Watch. September 19, 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
- Lucia, Joe (September 20, 2012). "TURNER AND FOX TO RETAIN MLB RIGHTS". AwfulAnnouncing.com. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
- Fang, Ken (September 24, 2012). "A Look at The New MLB TV Deals". Fang's Bites. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
- Lepore, Steve (March 6, 2013). "Fox Sports 1 must succeed on its own terms before challenging ESPN". SBNation.com. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
- "Fox Sports announces Fox Sports 1". Retrieved March 5, 2013.
- Fang, Ken (March 6, 2013). "What You’ll See on Fox Sports 1". Fang's Bites. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
- Fang, Ken (October 2, 2012). "Wrapping Up All of the New MLB TV Deals Into One". Fang's Bites. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- Fang, Ken (October 2, 2012). "Fox Sports Announces Eight-Year Rights Deal with MLB". Fang's Bites. Retrieved October 5, 2012.
- "FOX Cuts Back on Regular Season Baseball; Blackouts For Regional Games to Be Lifted". Sports Media Watch. 2 October 2. Retrieved October 5, 2012.