TBS enters big leagues

Baseball does splits with LCS games

NEW YORK — TBS has ramped up its commitment to baseball by engineering a seven-year deal for one-half of the League Championship Series, to go with the network’s previous deal for all of the divisional playoffs and a package of 26 regular-season Sunday-afternoon games.

The parties declined to discuss license fees, but one reported figure put TBS’ payment at about $45 million a year, well below Major League Baseball’s asking price of $70 million. In July, TBS agreed to pony up $104 million a year for the division playoffs and the Sunday games.

TBS was able to negotiate a lower price because ratings of postseason games so far this year are “disappointing,” said Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball. But Selig said he was optimistic that the Mets-Cardinals series will chalk up better Nielsens for its conclusion, and that the World Series will harvest bumper crops of viewers.

Fox was tracking about 20% below last year’s averages heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals. Sunday’s game between the two teams, for example, settled for 8.6 million viewers, compared with 11.3 million for the game between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels on the same night last year.

Rainouts and short early-round series also have contributed to the ratings declines.

The Fox network earlier locked up a seven-year deal for the World Series, half of the LCS and a package of Saturday-afternoon games. Fox and TBS will alternate between the National and American League games each year, starting in 2007, when TBS gets the National and Fox the American.

Last year, ESPN signed an eight-year deal with MLB for a full season’s schedule of games three nights a week for $296 million a year. ESPN gets no postseason games in its MLB contract.

Overall, MLB will pocket north of $5 billion in the next seven years from its deals with Fox, TBS and ESPN.

In a conference call, David Levy, president of Turner Sports, said TBS will continue to schedule games of the Atlanta Braves, 70 of them nationally in 2007, and 45 a year only on the local WTBS signal in Atlanta, from 2008 through 2013.

Selig said the TBS deal “made a great deal of sense” because the network will be able to package the division games with the LCS games and draw in more advertisers at potentially higher cost-per-thousands.

If there are any conflicts during the division playoffs, Levy said TBS’ TNT sibling would take over some of the games.

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