FOX SPORTS AND BASEBALL SET TO RENEW TV CONTRACT

Major League Baseball is set to renew its TV rights deal with Fox Sports. Under the new seven-year agreement, Fox Sports will retain the rights to the Saturday game of the week, the All-Star Game, and the World Series, but has opted to keep only one League Championship Series. Turner Broadcasting is expected to carry the Divisional Series and, beginning in 2008, a Sunday afternoon game of the week.

The shift in broadcast rights allows Fox to keep the big-ticket games in its line-up, but gives the network room to make changes in its primetime schedule, which has recently been overrun with baseball broadcasts in the month of October. The deal also gives Turner a larger piece of the MLB pie, and potentially leaves ESPN out of the post-season broadcast circuit.

Fox Sports will carry this season s LCS and World Series, along with the July 11 All-Star Game and the Saturday afternoon game of the week. Beginning in 2007, Fox will expand game of the week broadcasts from 18 to 26 weeks and still carry the All-Star Game, the ALCS, and the World Series. For the duration of the contract, Fox will alternate between the American and National League Championship series, beginning with the ALCS in 2007. The other LCS has yet to be assigned a network, but Fox, Turner, and NBC have been identified as potential buyers. ESPN has not yet shown interest in obtaining the broadcast.

The seven-year Turner agreement will be phased in gradually. Last year, Turner signed a seven-year contract to gain the rights to broadcast Atlanta Braves games on TBS and then-regional network Turner South (that network has since been sold to FSN). The terms of the Braves deal will remain in effect at least through 2007, allowing TBS to carry 70 Braves games in 2006 and 2007.

TBS will broadcast the entire divisional series in 2007, which includes two sets of games in each of the leagues, selected from the top team in each division and two wildcards. Beginning this postseason, TBS will have the broadcasting rights for postseason tiebreakers, and beginning in 2008, throughout the regular season, the network will televise a national game of the week on Sunday afternoons.

The broadcasting rights acquired by TBS will continue to increase MLB s national television exposure, which recently received a boost from an ESPN contract renewal for regular-season games and the exclusive national Sunday Night Baseball. However, unlike Sunday Night Baseball and Fox s Saturday game of the week, Turner s broadcasts will not be exclusive.