New MLB Deal Strengthens News Corp.'s Cable Play


News Corp. is stepping up to the plate to take a swing at building a national sports cable network that can take on leader ESPN, sliding past Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

NBCU has already rebranded its Versus network as the NBC Sports Channel and has been hoping to get a boost from a new Major League Baseball deal. But according to published reports, Comcast got left in the on-deck circle because it wasn’t willing to pay as much as News Corp., which will be putting a bigger package of games on both its Fox Network and its Speed auto-racing channel, which will be rebranded as Fox Sports One.

Turner is also in the equation. It will be getting fewer games in both the regular season and postseason. And of course, ESPN showed it still has its fastball, already completing a new $5.6 billion deal with MLB that will carry it through the 2021 season.

Live sports still generate mass ratings and advertisers love them because they’re watched live, making commercials during games just about DVR-proof. Baseball may not be as popular as the NFL, but it offers hundreds of games capable of filling out a schedule during a good chunk of the year.

Sports also give programmers leverage over distributors who don’t want to hear from subscribers who get more irate about the possibility of missing a Giants game than an episode of Mad Men.

So News Corp. will bet that its new MLB game will give it a shot to hit a grand slam with Fox Sports One. Meanwhile, Comcast, which already spent big on the Olympics, World Cup and the NFL, will remain in the dugout for now.