The Baseball Network
|The Baseball Network|
|Also known as||Baseball Night in America|
|Theme music composer||Scott Schreer|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|Production company(s)||Major League Baseball|
|Original run||July 12, 1994 – October 28, 1995|
|Preceded by||Major League Baseball on CBS (1990-1993)|
|Followed by||Major League Baseball on Fox (1996-present)|
The Baseball Network was a short-lived television broadcasting joint venture between ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball. Under the arrangement, beginning in the 1994 season, the league produced its own in-house telecasts of games, which were then brokered to air on ABC and NBC. The package included coverage of games in primetime on selected nights throughout the regular season (under the branding Baseball Night in America), along with coverage of the postseason and the World Series.
Unlike previous broadcasting arrangements with the league, there was no national "game of the week" during the regular season; these would be replaced by multiple weekly regional telecasts on certain nights of the week. Additionally, The Baseball Network had exclusive coverage windows; no other broadcaster could televise MLB games during the same night that The Baseball Network was televising games.
The arrangement did not last long; due to the effects of a players' strike on the remainder of the 1994 season, and poor reception from fans and critics over the coverage was implemented, The Baseball Network would be disbanded after the 1995 season. While NBC would maintain rights to certain games, the growing Fox network became the league's new national broadcast partner beginning in 1996, with their parent company eventually purchasing the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After the fall-out from CBS's financial problems from their exclusive, four-year-long television contract with Major League Baseball (a contract that cost the network US$500 million), Major League Baseball decided to go into the business of producing the telecasts themselves and market these to advertisers on its own. In reaction to the failed trial with CBS, Major League Baseball was desperately grasping for every available dollar. To put things into proper perspective, in 1991, CBS' second year of their contract, CBS reported a loss of around $169 million in the third quarter of the year. A drop of in advertiser interest caused revenue from the sale of ads during CBS' baseball telecasts to plummet. All the while, CBS was still contractually obligated to pay Major League Baseball around $260 million a year through 1993.
The scheme of Major League Baseball attempting to produce and market the games themselves, they hoped to provide games of regional interests to appropriate markets. Major League Baseball in the process, hoped to offer important games for divisional races to the overall market. Owners hoped that this particular technique, combined with the additional division races created through league expansion (the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins had debuted the year prior) and the quest for wild card spots for the playoffs (1994 was the first year of three divisions for each league) in improve the national broadcast revenue for Major League Baseball in the foreseeable future.
After a four-year hiatus, ABC and NBC (who last aired Thursday Night Baseball games and the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week respectively) returned to Major League Baseball under the umbrella of a revenue sharing venture called The Baseball Network. Under a six-year plan, Major League Baseball was intended to receive 85% of the first US$140 million in advertising revenue (or 87.5% of advertising revenues and corporate sponsorship from the games until sales top a specified level), 50% of the next $30 million, and 80% of any additional money. Prior to this, Major League Baseball was projected to take a projected 55% cut in rights fees and receive a typical rights fee from the networks. When compared to the previous TV deal with CBS, The Baseball Network was supposed to bring in 50% less of the broadcasting revenue. The advertisers were reportedly excited about the arrangement with The Baseball Network because the new package included several changes intended to boost ratings, especially among younger viewers.
Arranging broadcasts through The Baseball Network seemed, on the surface, to benefit NBC and ABC since it gave them a monopoly on broadcasting Major League Baseball games. The deal was similar to a time-buy, instead of a traditional rights fee situation. It also stood to benefit the networks because they reduced the risk associated with purchasing the broadcast rights outright (in stark contrast to CBS's disastrous contract with Major League Baseball from the 1990–1993 seasons). NBC and ABC were to create a loss-free environment for each other and keep an emerging Fox, who had recently made an aggressive and ultimately successful $1.58 billion bid for the television rights for National Football Conference games (thus, becoming a large player in the sports broadcasting game in the process), at bay. As a result of Fox's NFL gain, CBS was weakened further by affiliate changes, as a number of stations jumped to Fox from CBS. For example, in Detroit, WWJ-TV replaced WJBK.
Key figures involved in the creation and production for The Baseball Network:
- David Alworth (vice president of broadcasting and production management)
- Chris Bevilacqua (director of corporate sponsorships)
- Rick Clifford
- Ed Delaney (vice president of operations)
- Dick Ebersol (president of NBC Sports)
- Eddie Einhorn (vice chairman of the Chicago White Sox, television producer and a member of Major League Baseball's television committee)
- John Filippelli (coordinating producer)
- Ross Levinsohn
- Jon Litner (vice president of business affairs)
- Jed Petrick (vice president of sales)
- Ken Schanzer (president and chief operating officer)
- Bud Selig (owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and acting commissioner of Major League Baseball)
- Dennis Swanson (president of ABC Sports)
- Tom Werner (owner of the San Diego Padres and a member of Major League Baseball's television committee)
The Baseball Network kicked off its coverage on July 12, 1994 with the All-Star Game out of Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. The game was televised on NBC with Bob Costas, Joe Morgan, and Bob Uecker calling the action and Greg Gumbel hosting the pre-game show. Helping with interviews were Hannah Storm and Johnny Bench. The 1994 All-Star Game reportedly sold out all its advertising slots. This was considered an impressive financial accomplishment, given that one thirty-second spot cost US$300,000.
Baseball Night in America
After the All-Star Game was complete, ABC (with a reunited Al Michaels, Tim McCarver, and Jim Palmer along with CBS baseball alumnus Lesley Visser as the primary broadcasting crew) was scheduled to televise six regular season games on Saturdays or Mondays in prime time. On the subject of play-by-play man Al Michaels returning to baseball for the first time since the infamous, earthquake interrupted the 1989 World Series, Jim Palmer said, "Here Al is, having done five games since 1989, and steps right in. It's hard to comprehend how one guy could so amaze." NBC would then pick up where ABC left off by televising six more regular season Friday night games.
The networks had exclusive rights for the twelve regular season dates, in that no regional or national cable service (e.g. ESPN or superstations like Chicago's WGN or Atlanta's WTBS) or over-the-air broadcaster was allowed to telecast a Major League Baseball game on those dates. Baseball Night in America (which premiered on 16 July 1994) usually aired up to fourteen games based on the viewers' region (affiliates chose games of local interest to carry) as opposed to a traditional coast-to-coast format. Normally, announcers who represented each of the teams playing in the respective games were paired with each other. More specifically, on regional Saturday night broadcasts and all non-"national" broadcasts, TBN let the two lead announcers from the opposing teams call the games involving their teams together.
Every Baseball Night in America game was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time (or 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time if the game occurred on the West Coast). A single starting time gave the networks the opportunity to broadcast one game and then, simultaneously, cut to another game when there was a break in action.
Games involving the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos, were not always included in the Baseball Night in America package. Canadian rights holders were allowed to broadcast the games. When TSN (who owned the cable rights to the Blue Jays and Expos) covered the game in Canada, they re-broadcast the BNA feed across their network. Typically, if the Blue Jays were idle for the day, the Expos would be featured on TSN. Also, CBET (the CBC affiliate in Windsor, Ontario) would air Blue Jays games if the Detroit Tigers weren't at home that night or if the Blue Jays scheduled to play in Detroit. Whether or not the game would air in the opposing team's market would depend on which time zone they were from, or if they shared a market with another team.
Ratings for both seasons of the Baseball Night in America regular season coverage were substantially higher than CBS' final season in 1993 (3.8) or any subsequent season on Fox. Baseball Night in America earned a 6.2 during the strike-shortened 1994 season and a 5.8 in 1995.
All of these games aired on ABC; due to the strike NBC was unable to air its slate of games.
In even numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series. In odd numbered years the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate. When ABC and NBC last covered baseball together from 1976-1989, ABC had the rights to the World Series in odd numbered years while NBC would cover the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series in said years. Likewise, this process would alternate in even numbered years, with ABC getting the All-Star Game and both LCS in years that NBC had the World Series.
The networks also promised not to begin any World Series weekend broadcasts after 7:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. When CBS held the television rights, postseason games routinely aired on the East Coast at 8:30 p.m. at the earliest. This meant that Joe Carter's dramatic World Series clinching home run in 1993 occurred after midnight in the East. As CBS' baseball coverage progressed, they dropped the 8:00 p.m. pregame coverage (in favor of sitcoms such as Evening Shade) before finally starting their coverage at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The first pitch would generally arrive at approximately 8:45 p.m.
ABC won the rights to the first dibs at the World Series in August 1993 after ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson won a coin toss by calling "heads." Ken Schanzer, who was the CEO of The Baseball Network, handled the coin toss. Schanzer agreed to the coin toss by ABC and NBC at the outset as the means of determining the order in which they'd divvy up the playoffs.
What separated The Baseball Network from previous television deals with Major League Baseball, and was by far the most controversial part of the deal, was that not all postseason games (aside from the World Series) were guaranteed to be shown nationally. To increase viewership by preventing games from being played in the afternoon (the league was the only professional sports league in the country to play postseason games during the afternoon), the National League and American League's division and championship series games were instead played simultaneously in primetime, and affiliates could only air one game each night, which were again determined regionally. If one playoff series had already concluded, the remaining games would be aired nationally. Despite the frustration of not being able to see both League Championship Series on a national level, the 1995 LCS averaged a 13.1 rating.
Besides the 1994 All-Star Game and Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, arguably, the most famous Baseball Network broadcast was Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners, broadcast on ABC. It ended with the Mariners winning in 11 innings (via Edgar Martínez's game winning double), to clinch their first ever trip to the American League Championship Series.
A major problem with Baseball Night in America was the idea that viewers couldn't watch "important" games. Marty Noble put it in perspective by saying "With the Network determining when games will begin and which games are made available to which TV markets, Major League Baseball can conduct parts of its pennant races in relative secrecy."
What added to the troubles of The Baseball Network was the fact that Baseball Night in America held exclusivity over every market. This most severely impacted markets with two teams, specifically New York (Mets and Yankees), the Greater Los Angeles Area (Dodgers and Angels), Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), the San Francisco Bay Area (Giants and A's), and even Texas (Astros and Rangers). For example, if Baseball Night in America showed a Yankees game, this meant that nobody in New York could see that night's Mets game and vice versa.
Things got so bad for The Baseball Network that even local broadcasters objected to its operations. KSMO-TV in Kansas City, the primary over-the-air station for the Kansas City Royals, went as far as to sue the Royals for breach of contract resulting from their broadcasts being "overexposed" and violating its territorial exclusivity.
Worse yet, even if a market had only one team, the ABC or NBC affiliate could still not broadcast that team's game if the start time was not appropriate for the time zone. For example, if the Detroit Tigers (the only team in their market) played a road game in Seattle, Oakland or Anaheim beginning at 8:00 p.m. PT (a late game), Detroit's Baseball Network affiliate couldn't air the game because the start time was too late for the Detroit area (11:00 p.m. ET). Detroit viewers only had the option of viewing the early game of the night.
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci for one, was very harsh on The Baseball Network, dubbing it both "America's regional pastime" and an "abomination." ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson, in announcing the dissolution of The Baseball Network, said "The fact of the matter is, Major League Baseball seems incapable at this point in time, of living with any long term relationships, whether it's with fans, with players, with the political community in Washington, with the advertising community here in Manhattan, or with its TV partners."
Five years after The Baseball Network dissolved, NBC Sports play-by-play man Bob Costas wrote in his book Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball that The Baseball Network was "stupid and an abomination." Costas wrote that the agreement involving the World Series being the only instance of The Baseball Network broadcasting a nationally was an unprecedented surrender of prestige, as well as a slap to all serious fans. Costas believed that The Baseball Network fundamentally corrupted the game and acknowledged that the most impassioned fans in baseball were now prevented from watching many of the playoff games that they wanted to see, as all playoff games had been broadcast nationally for decades. Costas added that both the divisional series and the League Championship Series now merited scarcely higher priority than regional coverage provided for a Big Ten football game between Wisconsin and Michigan.
According to Curt Smith's book, The Voice - Mel Allen's Untold Story, the longtime New York Yankees broadcaster and This Week in Baseball host was quoted as saying "You wonder how anything would be worse [than CBS]. What kind of show cancels a twenty-six-week-season's first fourteen weeks?" (in response to TBN's tagline, "Welcome to the Show")
During the 1995 Division Series, the fan frustration with The Baseball Network was so bad that the mere mention of it during the Mariners–Yankees ALDS from public address announcer Tom Hutyler at Seattle's Kingdome brought boos from most of the crowd.
Downfall and demise
The long term plans for The Baseball Network began to crumble after players and owners went on strike on 12 August 1994. In addition to the cancellation of that year's World Series, ABC was denied its remaining Baseball Night in America telecasts and NBC was shut out of its altogether. Both networks elected to dissolve the partnership with Major League Baseball on 22 June 1995. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. To salvage the remains of the partnership, ABC and NBC elected to share coverage of the World Series. ABC, by virtue of their win of the 1994 coin toss, covered the odd numbered games and NBC the even numbered games; the decisive game of the 1995 World Series, thus, was aired on NBC.
Others would argue that a primary reason for its failure was its abandoning of localized markets in favor of more lucrative and stable advertising contracts afforded by turning to a national model of broadcasting, similar to the National Football League's television package, which focuses on localized games, with one or two "national" games.
In the end, the venture would lose US$95 million in advertising and nearly $500 million in national and local spending. The Baseball Network generated only about $5.5 million per team in revenue for each of the two years that it operated. To put things into proper perspective, in 1993 alone, CBS generated about $14.7 million per team. Much of this could possibly be traced back to the strike causing a huge drop in revenue, which in return caused baseball salaries to decrease by approximately $140,000 on average in 1995.
Both the NBC and CBS television networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th century, and Fox signed on to be the exclusive network carrier of Major League Baseball regular season games in 1996. However, NBC kept a postseason-only (with the exception of even numbered years when NBC had the rights to the All-Star Game) deal in the end, signing a deal to carry three Division Series games, one half of the League Championship Series (the ALCS in even numbered years and the NLCS in odd numbered years; Fox would televise the other LCS in said years), and the 1997 and 1999 World Series respectively (Fox had exclusive rights to the 1996, 1998 and 2000 World Series).
With ABC being sold to the Walt Disney Company in 1996, ESPN would pick up Division Series day and late-night games with a provision similar to its National Football League games, where the games would air on network affiliates in the local markets of the two teams only. ESPN's Major League Baseball contract was not affected then but would take a hit in 1998 with the new National Football League contract.
In 2012, Fox would revive the Baseball Night in America title (previously used for The Baseball Network's games) for a series of Saturday night games. Unlike The Baseball Network, Fox did not carry every game that was scheduled for a given Saturday, only choosing 5-6 games to distribute to its affiliates.
Announcers who represented each of the teams playing in the respective games were typically paired with each other during games on regular season Baseball Night in America telecasts. Also as previously mentioned, ABC used Al Michaels, Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver, and Lesley Visser as the lead broadcasting team (Brent Musburger, CBS alumnus Jim Kaat, and Jack Arute became the number two team for ABC). Meanwhile, NBC used Bob Costas, Joe Morgan, Bob Uecker and Jim Gray as their lead broadcasting team. John Saunders was the studio host for ABC's Baseball Night in America coverage. Hannah Storm hosted NBC's studio show for the lone season the network was able to participate in The Baseball Network; Greg Gumbel was NBC's studio host for its coverage of the 1994 All-Star Game (as previously mentioned). In 1995, Gumbel became the number two play-by-play announcer for NBC (working with Joe Morgan on the National League Championship Series) behind Bob Costas.
1995 World Series
- 1994 Major League Baseball All-Star Game
- 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike
- 1995 Major League Baseball All-Star Game
- 1995 American League Division Series
- 1995 National League Division Series
- 1995 American League Championship Series
- 1995 National League Championship Series
- 1995 World Series
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