MLB’s New Deals With Fox, Turner Target Wider Distribution, Digital Platforms

By Karen Hogan, Associate Editor and Brandon Costa, Senior Editor

In another financially lucrative day for the sport, Major League Baseball has inked eight-year multiplatform media-rights agreements with Fox Sports Media Group (FSMG) and Turner Broadcasting.

Fox Sports’ deal maintains the network as MLB’s national broadcast-television home, while significantly increasing Fox Sports’ television, digital, and Spanish-language rights. Turner Sports’ deal extends TBS’s television rights for the MLB postseason, adds co-exist rights for the network’s Sunday MLB on TBS franchise, and expands Turner’s digital rights.

During the eight-year span, which begins in 2014 and runs through the 2021 season, MLB Network will exclusively air two League Division Series (LDS) games every postseason, with the two game telecasts from one League Division Series each year.

“The value of these deals is a manifestation of how far this sport has come, and it’s a reflection of the great year we’ve had both on and off the field,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in announcing the deals. “Fox and Turner have both played big roles in the growth of Major League Baseball, and I thank them for that. We’re excited to extend this relationship even further into the future.”

All of MLB’s new rights deals offer networks greater flexibility in terms of digital rights, local blackout restrictions, and highly valued live look-ins.

Combined with the ESPN deal struck last month, MLB’s television deals total up to a whopping $12.4 billion, a sum that will be distributed equally among all 30 clubs over the life of the agreement.

Games in Place for a National Fox Sports Network?
Fox Sports has been a national MLB rightsholder since 1996 and the sport’s exclusive national broadcast partner since 2001. The network will retain the television rights to World Series, one League Championship Series (alternating leagues each season with TBS), and the All-Star Game.

Beginning in 2014, Fox Sports will add coverage of two Division Series, with one game from each series carried by MLB Network. Fox Sports will also double its Saturday regular-season telecast windows from 26 to 52, including 12 exclusive Saturday windows. Those additional 40 games are said to air on a “nationally distributed Fox channel,” which brightens the spotlight on the rumors surrounding a potential national Fox Sports network.

“Throughout this deal, we have flexibility to some degree on distribution of the games,” Randy Freer, co-president/co-COO, FSMG, said in a conference call. “As many of you have read or heard, we continue to evaluate the potential of a national sports channel. We haven’t announced anything yet and don’t plan to today, but, when we do, you guys will be the first to know.”

Under terms of the agreement, Fox Sports also gains rights to develop MLB-branded programming, to use expanded footage and highlights for linear and digital platforms, and to stream all games and MLB-related programming televised on Fox.

Fox Deportes also gains the right to carry all games televised by FSMG, including the All-Star Game, Division Series, League Championship Series (LCS), and World Series. Eric Shanks, co-president/co-COO at FSMG, confirmed that a Spanish TV Everywhere platform will be implemented.

Turner Turns Focus on Digital Rights
The partnership between MLB and Turner Broadcasting, which dates back to 1973, represents one of the longest-running relationships between a media company and a league in televised sports.

Turner Sports’ expanded MLB rights deal includes exclusive television rights to one LCS and two of the four MLB Division Series, alternating between leagues each year. The network will also broadcast one Wild Card Game (the other going to ESPN in its deal), alternating between the AL and NL. The agreement also adds new co-exist rights to the final 13 Sundays of the regular season as part of Turner Sports’ Sunday MLB on TBS Game of the Week package.

“At Turner, we’re consistently looking to acquire rights and provide premium sports programming that resonates with our consumers,” said David Levy, president, sales, distribution, and sports, at Turner Broadcasting. “When you look at the overall scope of television and the digital rights we have acquired, this new agreement adds considerable value to our portfolio and further strengthens our position to offer the best in top-level sports content, no matter the screen or the platform.”

Turner Sports’ expanded digital rights will allow TBS to simulcast its MLB games and MLB-related programming across Turner platforms and deliver increased footage and highlights to Turner applications and Websites, including Bleacher Report (acquired by Turner Sports in August). Turner Sports will also have rights to create companion and ancillary products related to the TBS broadcast of regular- and post-season games.

“It’s mobile, it’s tablet, it’s Web, it’s games. It’s a lot of in-depth stuff that we did not have before because, when we did this deal in the past, those rights were not available,” added Levy. “So, as part of all new rights with all new sports properties, TV Everywhere is a key aspect to it as well as making sure we have enough rights to expose our brands and to make sure we can monetize it across platforms.”

MLB Network Maintains Postseason Portfolio
As announced in May 2012, MLB Network will televise two LDS games in 2012 and 2013. With the new pact, the network will continue to air two LDS games every postseason, with the two game telecasts coming from one LDS each year.

“The addition of these games for us is really critical,” said MLB Network President/CEO Tony Petitti. “It shows the commitment the commissioner and Major League Baseball have to the growth and success of the network. To have these games as a culmination of our season, it reminds our viewers of the commitment we make to baseball. It will grow our audience, and, moving forward, it’s an important showcase for all of us.”

Under the terms of its new agreement with the league, MLB Network will continue to air more than 150 regular-season games each season, including MLB Network Showcase game productions. MLB Network has produced regular-season game telecasts since its inaugural season in 2009.

Beginning in 2014, MLB Network will add the All-Star Futures Game and the MLB All-Star Game Selection Show, while continuing to produce the MLB First-Year Player Draft, MLB Tonight, and additional regular-season and offseason studio programming, including Quick Pitch, The Rundown, Intentional Talk, Hot Stove, and Clubhouse Confidential.