SBJ/August 29 - September 4, 2005/Media

MLB and ESPN TV talks continue as Comcast enters the picture

The year-long, marathon negotiations between Major League Baseball and ESPN are reaching a climactic point, with ESPN wanting a smaller package while MLB is simultaneously talking to Comcast, sources involved in the talks said.

A senior MLB official said last week that talks are “hot and heavy” with Comcast, which is fresh off negotiating a rights deal with the NHL for its OLN network.

ESPN executives said they thought they were close to nailing down a renewal deal with MLB, extending their six-year, $841 million contract, which expires after this season.

But the sides still have outstanding issues related to money, exclusivity, number of games and new media rights, said sources.

An ESPN source said the network expects to pay a rights fee increase to renew its main package, but has not come to terms with MLB regarding how much and for how many games. Another sticking point is rights for alternative distribution methods such as mobile devices, video on demand and broadband.

The television deal was close to being completed in the spring, but never was because of disagreements between MLBAM and the MLB Office of the Commissioner over how new media rights would be divided. After more than a month passed with no resolution, ESPN pulled its offer, prompting anger from the league, sources said.

ESPN later completed an eight-year side deal with MLBAM for certain Internet rights, but some of the new media rights in the television deal still need to be resolved.

With the ESPN deal still not done, Comcast is talking to MLB about carving out a small rights package of its own or stepping up to a larger one to supplant ESPN as the league’s primary cable rights holder.

The MLB executive said that talks with Comcast picked up on the heels of Comcast’s OLN signing with the NHL and that MLB could be next.

Comcast declined to comment.

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Related Topics:

Baseball, Comcast, ESPN, MLB, Outdoor Channel

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