NBC and Fox balk at baseball pitch

Bidding for MLB rights now open to other markets

Negotiations for a new baseball rights deal have gone into extra innings.

NBC and Fox passed on Major League Baseball’s initial pitch, which would have tripled what NBC and Fox currently pay. At stake are the rights to air programming such as the All-Star game, the World Series, the playoffs and the Saturday game of the week.

Under the baseball proposal, Fox’s yearly payments would have jumped from $115 million to $345 million, while NBC’s bill would rise from $80 million to $240 million.

The networks’ current deals end at the end of the season. (Fox will telecast the World Series this year, while NBC airs the All-Star game next month.)

Fox and NBC initially entered an exclusive negotiating period to strike new pacts, which was then expanded for two weeks beyond its initial June 5 deadline (Daily Variety, June 8). With the two networks leaving the mound, bidding will now expand to the open market.

With the networks leery of handing over precious airtime for the low-rated baseball playoff games during October — which typically throw a curveball into the flow of their just-launched fall skeds — baseball may find it difficult to extract large rights fee increases.

Fox execs are confident that in the end they’ll land at least half the package. The network is the only Big Four web to show much interest in airing the 18 Saturday-afternoon regular season games. Also, the network is damaged less by early fall baseball pre-emptions, especially when it airs playoff games on Thursdays (traditionally a low-rated night for the network anyway).

NBC is also said to be interested in keeping baseball — at a reasonable price. The Peacock loves big events, and the World Series and All-Star Game are two of the biggest in sports. But the October schedule disruptions are a major source of concern at the network, which doesn’t air any regular season games.

CBS execs are said to be less eager to pick up baseball, mainly because of those fall disruptions, while ABC might be willing to bid for the rights in order to synergize with sister cabler ESPN. The latter earlier sealed an $800 million, six-year deal for baseball’s cable rights.

Baseball leaders hope to emulate the big fee increases generated by the NBA, NFL, NHL and NCAA in recent years.

The new broadcast-network deal is expected to follow the previous five-year deal, in which Fox picked up three World Series (vs. NBC’s two), while NBC aired three All-Star Games (to Fox’s two).

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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