SBD/12/Sports Media

DEUCE'S WILD: ESPN MAKES CASE FOR COVERAGE, WILL MLB AGREE?

          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).

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ESPN, MLB, NFL, Media, TBS/TNT, Time Warner, Walt Disney, WNBA

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