Baseball might hit a foul

The unique deal proposed last week by Major League Baseball, NBC and ABC could cost baseball its antitrust exemption, hurt the game’s image and ultimately lower ratings and revenue even for the World Series, TV industry sources say.

The deal is structured with no upfront money: Baseball and the webs will form a separate company to sell advertising, with approximately 80% of the revenue going to baseball.

The deal would also move all regular-season network games into prime time, add an extra round of playoffs and break down all coverage except for the World Series by region, with half the country seeing the National League Championship Series, the other half the American League Championship Series.

The new structure, however, quickly made a host of enemies, including several key owners, who objected to the deal, and the players’ union, which was furious about not being consulted.

If the deal falls through, CBS is at the door with a more traditional counterproposal: A two-year deal, with $ 120 million upfront per year and a split of ad revenues over $ 150 million.

If the ABC/NBC deal is approved, it could cost baseball its antitrust exemption, especially since many observers suspect that baseball eventually hopes to offer the other games on pay-per-view.

Congressman Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) said without the exemption the owners’ deal with the two networks “is clearly collusion.” If the contract is signed, he predicted, his bills on the issue will pass this fall.

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