SBJ/December 12 - 18, 2005/Media

ESPN set to broadcast World Baseball Classic

A long-discussed TV deal for ESPN to broadcast the inaugural World Baseball Classic is now being eyed for a formal announcement this week, after lengthy rounds of contractual wrangling.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig listens as the MLBPA’s Gene
Orza gives an update last week on the players who will take
part in the event.

The event — Major League Baseball’s attempt to create a World Cup-style, international tournament — will be shown across most of the ESPN battery of channels, including ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. The semifinal and final games are set to be shown on ESPN, though East Coast baseball purists will undoubtedly howl at the scheduled start times of 10 p.m. ET for one of the March 18 semifinal games and 9 p.m. ET for the championship game two days later.

ESPN and MLB agreed in concept weeks ago for the network to show the event, particularly as interest in the event from Fox, baseball’s other major TV partner, was not substantial. But the two sides have labored heavily over the exact terms of the deal regarding both money and scheduling, showing the scars of difficult negotiations this summer for an eight-year, $2.4 billion TV deal. “They’re fighting around the margins,” said an industry source with knowledge of the talks.

ESPN’s deal for the World Baseball Classic is only for the first event. MLB intends to draw competing interest from Fox, NBC and others for the second tournament, set for 2009.

The sponsorship side of the event promises to be far less troublesome. MLB executives are approaching top-tier partners such as Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi and MasterCard for Classic deals and are making a heavy Asian sales push as well.

“MLB is very loyal to their partners, so it’s natural we would go to them first,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in this event, which is very gratifying.”

MLB last week announced that 177 major league players, a list that includes most of the key stars in the game, have committed to play in the World Baseball Classic, with confirmations from Asian stars such as Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki still forthcoming as of presstime.

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