Play Ball! Fox, Turner to Re-Up With MLB

Multibillion-dollar deals wrap up baseball rights through 2021

Major League Baseball has secured its media rights deals through the start of the next decade, coming to agreements with Fox and Turner Sports on a pair of new eight-year pacts worth billions.

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, while the requisite legal papers have not been signed, the league has an agreement in principle in place with both media companies. A formal announcement could arrive as soon as Sept. 24.

As is the case with MLB’s new deal with ESPN, Fox and Turner have agreed to eight-year deals at twice the price. Fox currently pays $257.1 million a year for its seven-year package, for a grand total of $1.8 billion, while Turner invested $148.6 million per season, a payout that adds up to $1.2 billion.

Under terms of the new deals, Fox will pay roughly $500 million per year through 2021, for a grand total of $4 billion. Turner, meanwhile, will shell out close to $350 million per year, or $2.8 billion in all.

When rolled up with ESPN’s package, MLB’s total annual media payout adds up to a little more than $1.5 billion, up from $750 million.

News of the deal was first reported by John Ourand and Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness Daily.

While MLB’s TV and digital rights will remain with the league’s legacy partners, other bidders had lined up for a shot. NBCUniversal was looking to play the spoiler role in the negotiations, making a bid that would undercut one of its broadcast rivals while bringing much-needed content to its NBC Sports Network. As much as NBC was hoping for a deal, MLB’s asking price was well beyond what parent company Comcast was willing to invest.

CBS also made an overture, proposing a broadcast-cable split analogous to its shared rights deal with Turner for March Madness. CBS hasn’t aired an MLB game since Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.

With baseball off the market for the better part of the next 10 years, the last major available sports property is the Big East. ESPN’s $1.2 billion deal with the mercurial conference is set to expire in 2013.

The new packages are said to be structured largely along the lines of the current deals, which means that Fox will continue to broadcast the World Series and MLB All-Star Game through 2012, while splitting the League Championship Series with Turner’s TBS. Perhaps the most striking difference is that TBS will cede two of the four League Divisional Series to Fox.

TBS also agreed to reduce its slate of regular-season Sunday afternoon games from 20 to 13, with the provision that it will gain exclusivity in local markets. (Under the terms of its current contract, Turner games are blacked out in local DMAs as a courtesy to hometown rightsholders.)

MLB last month openly acknowledged that it had doubled its rights fees when it negotiated a new deal with ESPN. In a statement issued on August 28, a league spokesperson said the deal “sets a new standard for Major League Baseball broadcasting as ESPN’s annual rights fee will increase by 100 percent over its current deals, marking an all-time record for an MLB broadcasting deal.”

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