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Volume 24 No. 157
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MLB: Job No. 1 Is Improving TV Ratings; More Fox Games Moving To Primetime

MLB’s national TV ratings were down last season, and MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan said that getting those numbers “turned around is Job 1 in the office of MLB commissioner Bud Selig," according to Jon Lafayette of BROADCASTING & CABLE. He noted there are a "number of steps that will be taken to reach that goal.” Brosnan recently discussed the league’s “game plan for 2013.” The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q: Last year, baseball ratings were down during the regular season on the national networks, except MLB Network. They were also down during the playoffs and World Series. How will you try to reverse that and make national games more popular?
Brosnan: We continue to work with Fox to present as compelling a schedule as we can produce. Some of this is dependent on the markets that get selected well in advance of the games being televised. Some of this is dependent upon the time of broadcast. We are moving, in our Fox national package, more and more to more primetime. 

Q: Moving national games to primetime makes a big difference?
Brosnan: The move to primetime with Fox will boost ratings. (Primetime) ratings have been for the past two years much higher than the regular-season average. And as we go into 2014, and this is across the cable packages, we will move from what we call non-exclusive local blacked-out games to coexclusives and exclusives where the game is national across the cable carrier. 

Q: Fox, Turner and ESPN have been experimenting with splitscreen commercial presentations. Could that help?
Brosnan: We've been talking to Fox about that. Our first concern is for the viewer, is for our customer. But hand in glove to that is the sponsors and the commercial advertisers that support the broadcast and make them available, making the economics easier for our customers to see all those games. So it's a combination of continuing to provide the best-produced product on the screen that we can, and we think we have the best production partners in ESPN, and Fox and Turner. 

Q: Given the long-term nature of the deals you signed with ESPN and Turner and with the support you want to give your own network, is there still a way to cash in as these new networks roll out in the short- to mid-term?
Brosnan: No. Our national telecast fortunes are basically set (for) 2014-2021. Obviously you're talking about the rumors that some of our partners are rolling out additional platforms during the course of our agreement. We always want to be good partners with our broadcast partners. … We think we've struck the right balance between national and local for the time being, but we're always mindful of what would work for us and what would work for our partners. So we're always open to discussions about new platforms. 

Q: So if a partner like Fox came out with a national sports network, there might be a way of them putting baseball on it?
Brosnan: I don't think that's currently contemplated, but Fox has been a terrific … we have a terrific long-term relationship with Fox. We feel like it's been a great home for baseball, so we would always treat them accordingly (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 2/11 issue). 

TAKING INVENTORY: BROADCASTING & CABLE’s Lafayette notes MLB despite the lower ratings is “maintaining its hold on advertisers, who are familiar with the game and are drawn to sports, where live viewing means commercials are more likely to be seen when they air.” Media planning agency Spark VP & Media Dir Miraj Parikh said, “I don’t see advertisers moving away from baseball. It’s still a valuable place for them to be.” With hundreds of games and “several networks broadcasting nationally, baseball is an efficient buy.” Among those “expected to buy the most TV inventory are Chevrolet, Anheuser-Busch, T-Mobile, Taco Bell and MasterCard.” T-Mobile, new to the MLB lineup, will be the presenting sponsor of ESPN’s “Wednesday Night Baseball” (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 2/11 issue).

GETTING STARTED: Fox' MLB regular-season coverage features a 24-week schedule, including eight consecutive weeks of primetime coverage for the second consecutive year. Every U.S.-based team makes at least one appearance this season with at least one at home during the primetime stretch, which begins in late May. Fox' coverage begins Saturday, April 6 (Fox).