Fox Continues To Play Ball - Broadcasting & Cable

Fox Continues To Play Ball

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Fox Sports is keeping the World Series, All-Star Game, a Saturday regular-season game and one of the League Championship Series, while Turner Sports has landed both Divisional Series and a new Sunday regular-season game for TBS, according to the new television deals announced Tuesday by Major League Baseball and the two networks.  The seven-year deals begin in 2007.

Sources with knowledge of the deals say that MLB has commanded an overall increase from the $417 million it received annually from Fox’s current six-year deal. 

Fox’s portion of the deal is said to now be around $250 million annually, with the remainder coming from Turner and possibly one other partner.

That’s because still remaining to be determined is the home for the other League Championship Series, for which Turner is thought to be a front-runner. 

“We’re obviously interested,” says Turner Sports President David Levy. ESPN, which also carries regular-season baseball, is also a possibility. But Fox Sports President Ed Goren says there is still an outside shot that his network could end up with a piece of that series as well.

“It is possible we pick up a couple games in partnership with a second entity?  It could be,” he says.
Should such a deal become available, it would have to be decided in conjunction with Fox’s entertainment side, such as which nights of the week the network might need some help.

“Part of it is this is a different network than it was 10 years ago,” Goren says.  “It made sense to have fewer pre-emptions in October now. It really speaks to the success of [Fox Entertainment President] Peter Liguori and his team.”

Under the new seven-year deals, to begin in 2007, Fox keeps the World Series, one of the two League Championship Series (LCS), a Saturday game of the week for 26 weeks and the All-Star Game. Fox will alternate between the American League Championship Series and National League Championship Series each year.

Turner Sports picks up coverage of the divisional series for both the American League and National League. It will put the games on TBS, with the ability to use TNT for overflow programming as it does with its NBA coverage.

As part of the deal beginning in 2008, Turner will add a Sunday regular-season game of the week as well as an All-Star Game selection show. This year, Turner also gets rights to any regular-season tie-breaker games that arise if two potential playoff teams finish even in the standings.

TBS won’t start the national Sunday game until 2008 because it still has a contract to air 70 Atlanta Braves games nationally in 2007.   TBS will no longer carry Braves games nationally as of 2008, but will air 45 games locally on WTBS.

“This is a landmark deal for TBS,” Levy says.  “With what’s happening with fragmentation in the television market, this gives TBS another top-tier property.”

Levy says nothing has been finalized regarding ancillary programming, but a pre-game show is among the expected developments.  Turner has significant success with its NBA wrap-around programming on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Magic Johnson.

“Hopefully we can build on that experience,” Levy says. Fox's current deal, which expires this year, included the entire package of post-season games as well as its regular-season coverage, at the cost of $2.5 billion over the past six years.

The network has lost $200 million over the course of the deal and News Corp. President Peter Chernin had said recently Fox would walk away from the entire package if they couldn't make the economics work.  Negotiations for the new extension took 14 months.

“Our mandate from Peter Chernin was that if we signed a new rights deal, we had to believe going in that it would make money for Fox, and we were able to get there,” Goren says.

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