Fox Retains Major League TV Rights

NEW YORK Fox has renewed its Major League Baseball television rights deal through 2013, expanding its Saturday baseball telecasts, keeping the All-Star Game and the World Series, and retaining the American and National League Championship Series in alternating years.

MLB is still negotiating with unnamed networks for the ALCS and NLCS games in the other alternating years, with NBC and CBS both said to be interested.

Fox will pay about $250 million per year for its new package, considerably less than the $415 million per year it paid under its previous deal, but it gave up the American and National League Divisional Series games, in addition to the ALCS and NLCS games in alternating years.

MLB will make up those dollars in a package it sold to Turner Broadcasting System, although the amount paid on that deal was unclear. Some sources said it could be in the $150 million range.

The ALDS and NLDS games were picked up by Turner, which plans to air all of those games on its TBS cable network. If there are overlapping games, Turner’s TNT will pick up some of the telecasts. TBS also gets 26 regular season Sunday afternoon games, a new package created by MLB. Those games will be exclusive to TBS and blacked out in local markets.

This new deal dissolves the current Turner contract with MLB that allowed TBS to carry regular season Atlanta Braves games nationally. Under the new deal, TBS will air 70 Braves games nationally in 2007, then beginning in 2008 through 2013, TBS will air 45 games on WTBS in Atlanta only.

In 2007, Turner will start airing the MLB All-Star Game selection show, which aired on ESPN under the current rights deal.

Under the new agreement, Fox will air ALCS games in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013, and NLCS games in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig did not say which networks he is negotiating with for the other league championship games in those alternating years. “There is an enormous amount of interest,” he said, and MLB hopes to announce a deal “in a short period of time.”

Selig called Fox “a wonderful partner” that has “demonstrated a great commitment to the game, “and we are delighted to continue our excellent relationship.”

Fox passed on the divisional series games because of lower ratings and because airing so many games during the month of October was disrupting its prime-time entertainment schedule. Mediaweek last October was first to report that Fox was contemplating dropping those games.

ESPN, which last year renewed its regular season baseball package with MLB for $295 million per year, which includes its exclusive Sunday night baseball game, was outbid by Turner for the divisional games, and is not expected to make a serious bid for the remaining ALCS and NLCS games, which MLB would rather see on a broadcast network.

This story updates an item posted yesterday with MLB confirmation and additional details.