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).