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DEUCE'S WILD: ESPN MAKES CASE FOR COVERAGE, WILL MLB AGREE?
Published May 12, 1998
ESPN is "ready to try to get cable systems that don't carry ESPN2 to carry" three "disputed" MLB Sunday night games that conflict with its NFL coverage, according to sources of DAILY VARIETY's John Dempsey. ESPN would target "local-origination channels" to bring Sunday's MLB audience total "closer" to ESPN's 74 million subscribers. Currently, ESPN2 has 57 million subscribers and MLB has reportedly objected to games being aired on the Deuce due to lower viewership numbers. But an ESPN spokesperson said, "That's a misconception about the strength of ESPN2. We expect the network to be in 60-million homes by September, and ESPN2 has delivered a sizeable audience for big games." Dempsey writes that MLB "is holding out the possibility" of taking the three games to another cable network, with TNT a possibility (DAILY VARIETY, 5/12). ESPN VP/Communications Chris LaPlaca said ESPN "would frown on that concept, but we are open to discussions regarding additional distribution of our production of those three games," including being televised by home market stations (USA TODAY, 5/12). WHAT TO DO? NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay: "ESPN is in a bind. It can't afford to lose baseball, the only major live sport in June, July and August. There's nothing else but soccer and the WNBA." The "likeliest" scenario is that ESPN sub- leases the three MLB games to Turner Sports (NEWSDAY, 5/12).