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ARE ESPN AND MLB HEADED FOR AN IN-SEASON "DIVORCE?"
Published May 11, 1998
MLB and ESPN are "headed for a messy, in-season divorce," with Turner Sports possibly "assuming custody of ESPN's national cable TV baseball rights," according to Sherman & Mushnick in Saturday's N.Y. POST. After ESPN acquired the entire NFL Sunday night schedule, it announced that it would move its September Sunday night MLB games to ESPN2. But sources told Sherman & Mushnick that "if Sunday nights in September don't include baseball on ESPN, MLB will seek to immediately void" its six-year, $255M deal with ESPN, which is due to expire after the '99 season. The same sources said that MLB "has inquired as to Turner's interests in the MLB package, an inquiry that was met with an enthusiastic response." A Turner spokesperson declined comment, but said that Turner "has always held a high and active regard" for MLB (N.Y. POST, 5/9). Mushnick writes today that an ESPN spokesperson said yesterday that the network "is committed to maintaining its contracted relationship with MLB in spite of a growing concern that baseball will seek to void its contract" (N.Y. POST, 5/11). OLBERMANN'S TAKE: In his SportsFan Radio Network commentary, Keith Olbermann says that ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," the "only" sports newscast permitted to show MLB highlights of games in-progress, "is part of the network's deal with baseball and would presumably also go away" if the deal is voided. Olbermann also says that the "disaster for ESPN shows how quickly one can go from buddies to enemies in baseball, or vice versa." Olbermann: "Disney, which owns ESPN, was the fair-haired boy. Fox, which owns the Dodgers, was the upstart. Turner, which owns the Braves, used to be the pariah. Now Disney and ESPN are bums, Fox, the veterans, and Turner, the savior" (SportsFan Radio, 5/11).