While ESPN has already locked up a piece of baseball TV rights for eight additional years, the most intriguing negotiations are yet to come.
Rights to the Major League Baseball Division Series, League Championship Series, and World Series — to say nothing of the MLB All-Star Game and the Saturday “Game of the Week” — remain up for grabs, with some combination of Fox Sports, NBC Sports, or Turner Sports/CBS expected to bid.
Currently, rights to those marquee events are divvied up between Fox Sports and Turner Sports. FOX, paying $257 million/year through the end of next season, holds the rights to the the World Series, one half of the League Championship Series, the regular season “Game of the Week,” and the MLB All-Star Game.
Turner Sports, paying $149 million/year, holds the rights to the entire Division Series and the other half of the League Championship Series.
According to a report in Sports Business Journal Monday, the Fox and Turner Sports deals could be combined into one massive television package. Both FOX and CBS/Turner Sports have reportedly proposed deals that would have them acquire the consolidated package.
Presented is an overview of the networks involved in MLB rights negotiations:
Fox Sports Media Group
World Series, All-Star Game, most League Championship Series games on FOX.
Division Series, some LCS, most regular season games on a new 24-hour cable sports channel ("Fox Sports 1," which is currently Speed Channel).
Stability and continuity: Fox Sports has maintained a relationship with Major League Baseball for nearly 20 years.
FOX can offer Major League Baseball a more consistent presence on broadcast television than CBS (regular season) or NBC (postseason).
As of August, Speed Channel (‘Fox Sports 1′) was in only four million more homes than NBC Sports Network, and 18 million fewer than TBS.
MLB cannot be thrilled with the prospect of major playoff games airing on a network in fewer homes than The Golf Channel. Then again, if Speed Channel is repurposed into an all-sports network with high-profile programming, the distribution could improve.
Fox Sports offers MLB the stability of a long-term partnership, better regular season presence than anything CBS can offer, and fewer conflicts during the postseason than NBC can offer.
With that said, Major League Baseball may not want to use the most important games of its season to prop up a fledgling cable channel.
Overall, in the view of this site, Fox Sports is the frontrunner if MLB decides to go with one consolidated TV package.
World Series, All Star Game, some League Championship Series games on CBS.
All other programming on Turner Sports.
TBS is available in more homes than any other cable network in contention (NBC Sports Network, Speed Channel, even ESPN/ESPN2).
Other than that, any advantage CBS/Turner has over the competition would have to be financial.
A joint bid could allow CBS/Turner to spend more than the competition, as was the case with the NCAA Tournament. For that event, CBS and Turner made an $840 million/year bid that could be split between CBS Corp. and Time Warner, while ESPN was forced to bow out with an $800 million/year bid that Disney would have had to incur on its own.
The CBS/Turner Sports deal is intriguing, but does not make much sense for Major League Baseball.
From a programing standpoint, CBS and Turner cannot offer MLB anything that Fox Sports or NBC Sports could not also offer.
Beyond the marquee events, it is hard to imagine CBS airing any other MLB programming.
Turner Sports may be the best around when it comes to NBA coverage, but TBS has not done a spectacular job with baseball (Chip Caray and Steve Harvey might ring a bell).
It does not seem likely that MLB would agree to a deal that would essentially eliminate its presence on broadcast television.
NBC Sports Group
Could bid on both the Fox Sports and Turner Sports packages, with games on NBC and NBC Sports Network.
Before the relationship was severely strained in the 1990s, NBC was the network most identified with Major League Baseball.
Unlike CBS, NBC would almost certainly give Major League Baseball as much — or greater — exposure on broadcast television as Fox Sports.
Sure, NBC would heavily promote Major League Baseball in order to build up NBC Sports Network — but FOX would do the same for Fox Sports 1. No advantage there.
NBC Sports Network is in fewer than 80 million homes, trailing both Fox Sports 1 (Speed Channel) and TBS.
NBC’s "Sunday Night Football" could conflict with Major League Baseball postseason games.
NBC Sports Group seems like a more logical possiblity than CBS/Turner Sports, but NBC reportedly considers itself an underdog in negotiations at this point.
The "Sunday Night Football" conflict may only affect two or three games, but those games would take place during the League Championship Series and World Series. Unless the NFL is willing to take a few Sunday nights off (an unlikely possibility), that could be a real problem for NBC.
Playoff games to go along with the eight-year deal they just signed.
ESPN and ESPN2 are in almost as many homes as TBS, and many more homes than both Fox Sports 1 (Speed Channel) and NBC Sports Network.
A longer active relationship with Major League Baseball than any other bidder, though that relationship has been fractured on more than one occasion.
ESPN has already committed to $700 million per year for Major League Baseball rights through 2021. Considering how much ESPN has already committed to baseball, the NFL, and college football’s Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl (to say nothing of the full college football playoff package ESPN is expected to require), would the network really be willing to pony up even more?
Like the CBS/Turner Sports proposal, an ESPN deal for the full, consolidated TV package would likely be cable-heavy. ABC is generally an afterthought.
Sports Business Journal reported Monday that ESPN was "not expected to be a significant player" for the remaining TV rights, and it is easy to see why.
Clearly, each of the networks involved has advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the option that would make the most sense would be to keep the current packages separate.
FOX and NBC offer strengths on the broadcast side and weaknesses on the cable side — and though both networks want baseball to build up new cable networks, Major League Baseball may be more interested in a cable partner that has already reached its full potential.
The suggestion that seems to be the most sensible is to give the FOX contract (World Series, All-Star Game and one LCS) to either FOX or NBC, and the Turner Sports contract (the Division Series and one LCS) to TBS or ESPN.
Not only would MLB stay strong on both broadcast and cable, but it would also maintain relationships with three of the ‘big six’ major media conglomerates.