Primetime baseball hits NBC, ABC weak nights

NBC and ABC will air their primetime baseball games next summer on Friday and Saturday, respectively, each shoring up a traditionally weak night of programming.

The networks unveiled the dates at a press conference here regarding their revenue-sharing venture between ABC, NBC and Major League Baseball. That partnership, called the Baseball Network, will tout its game of the week as “Baseball Night in America.”

The first telecast, the All-Star Game, will appear on NBC July 12. Beginning the following week, the two webs will offer 12 consecutive weeks of regionalized baseball programming in primetime — the first six games on ABC, with the final six going to NBC.

Two of ABC’s telecasts will be on Monday, with four on Saturday. The web didn’t want to preempt its successful “TGIF” comedies, while NBC is stronger Saturday and relatively weak Friday.

Baseball Network exec VP of sales & marketing Mike Trager stressed the network’s hopes to “restructure the ratings (of the game of the week) and to double or triple those from Saturday afternoon.”

CBS’ Saturday afternoon games fell 40% — to a 3.1 rating — during the four years the web broadcast baseball. Baseball Net has promised to improve both the ratings and the demographics by forgoing national action in favor of regional games.

Despite perceived difficulties selling advertising packages, Baseball’s Trager has signed deals with both Texaco and Russell Athletic. Currently, packages for ad spots in all 33 games (All-Star, regular season and playoffs, including the World Series) are priced around $ 5 million.

Ad revenue will be shared as follows: 80% will go to baseball, 10% each to NBC and ABC. The two webs spent no upfront rights money to televise the games, in contrast to CBS, which paid MLB $ 1.06 billion and lost more than $ 500 million in four years.

The advertising community is skeptical that ABC and NBC can attract the younger 18-34 demographic by broadcasting games Friday and Saturday during the summer — traditionally big movie nights.

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