While the new ESPN deal with Major League Baseball was largely a case of the network playing defense rather than offense, there are a few new wrinkles of note.
In addition to the previously mentioned acquisition of an MLB Wild Card game, ESPN has been granted the rights to additional regular season games and an increased limit on the number of appearances each team can make.
Starting in 2014, the first year of the new deal, ESPN will televise an additional ten Major League Baseball regular season games each year. Six of those games will take place on three major U.S. holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
The network will also air four additional games in late September and any regular season tiebreakers.
ESPN will also have a slightly increased limit on the number of appearances a given team can make on the network’s showcase ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ window.
The deal is a definite improvement over the previous contract for both ESPN and Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball will now receive an annual rights fee from a single network ($700 million) that approaches what the NBA — MLB’s chief rival among the four major sports when it comes to national TV ratings — receives from Disney and Turner combined ($930 million). Considering that MLB has two more packages up for bid, the annual rights fee starting in 2014 should rise well above one billion.
For ESPN, the deal ensures that the network will remain in the MLB picture and hold onto some of the only live sports programming available during the summer.
With that said, the deal does not provide ESPN with the highest profile games on the MLB calendar. Unless ESPN sets aside another couple hundred million in annual rights fees for a second MLB package, the network will go a whopping fifteen years — 2007-2021 — without airing any traditional baseball postseason games.
For a network that airs an entire NBA conference final and all five games of the Bowl Championship Series, the absence of even lower-tier Division Series games is conspicuous.
(TV deal details from ESPN Media Zone)