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Volume 27 No. 30
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MLB, Turner Sports Formally Agree To New Media Rights Deal

TBS also picks up a wild-card playoff game, in addition to the two division series and one LCS
Photo: CASEY STERN

MLB and Turner Sports finalized a seven-year media rights deal that sources say will see the media company pay around $535 million per year through '28. Turner now pays an average of $325 million a year under an eight-year deal that expires after the '21 season, meaning the extension represents about a 65% increase in value. All told, the overall deal is worth $3.7B. The N.Y. Post’s Andrew Marchand was first to report the value of the deal. The deal, which was formally announced this morning, continues a relationship between the two that dates back to '73. Sports Business Journal in June first reported the broad terms of the deal had been reached. “Economics are always important,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told SBJ. “Another factor that weighed on our decision making was that Turner came to the negotiating table with a lot of new ideas about exactly how we were going to make our combined efforts better.”

WEEKLY GAMES MOVING TO TUESDAY: Those ideas include having TBS move its regular-season game from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday night and expand that regular-season package to a full season from a half season. TBS also picks up a wild-card playoff game, in addition to the two division series and one LCS that it carries every year. In his first conversation with Manfred, Warner Media News & Sports Chair Jeff Zucker said the Sunday afternoon package was not working. "But we wanted to increase our commitment," Zucker said. "We actually wanted to double the number of games.” He added, "I don’t think, personally, it’s been a problem when the postseason rolls around and Turner plays such a prominent role in the postseason not having had a substantial role in the regular season. This (move) can’t hurt. This will enhance peoples’ affinity to Turner and baseball by being there with a regular game of the week." As part of the deal, Turner will produce a new studio show hosted by Ernie Johnson, who had been doing play-by-play. Turner hired Curtis Granderson to join Pedro Martinez and Jimmy Rollins on the show. "It’s about the game at the end of the day," Manfred said. "The fact of the matter is that when somebody comes to the negotiating table with fully developed thoughts about how they want to make their pregame show better, it’s a sign of the fact that they are really interested in and devoted to your content. We love that as an approach."

SEVERAL DIGITAL COMPONENTS INCLUDED: As with every media rights deal these days, this one has a digital component. Turner picked up TV Everywhere rights that will allow TBS to carry the games on its platforms to authenticated viewers. Turner Sports websites and apps, including Bleacher Report, will get more highlight rights. And Turner can create complementary apps around its games. "Early in the digital migration, we were very interested in having people on baseball owned and controlled platforms," Manfred said. "The partnership with Turner and the expansion of that partnership in terms of digital rights and the relationship with Bleacher Report reflects a shift in our strategy. We need to be where young people are -- get them the game where they want to watch it. We believe that Bleacher Report is one of those places." Manfred and Zucker said that they started negotiating soon after Fox extended its deal in the fall of '18. All of the talks between the two occurred during Turner’s exclusive negotiating window, which did not expire. The deal leaves ESPN’s package, including "Sunday Night Baseball," as the last one that MLB needs to negotiate. "The Turner deal and the Fox deal have a natural relationship because of the division of the postseason," Manfred said. "The ESPN deal is a little different. There’s not the natural connection that there is between Turner and Fox in terms of splitting the postseason."