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Fox, Major League Baseball Strike New Rights Pact

Major League Baseball and 21st Century Fox signed a new rights agreement that will keep the national pastime’s biggest games on Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting for the next several years.

Under the terms of the pact, Fox Sports and Fox Deportes maintain exclusive television broadcast rights to the World Series, one League Championship Series, two Division Series and the All-Star Game. As in previous agreements, the league’s MLB Network will continue to have the rights to two games from the League’s Division Series that Fox is airing. Fox Sports will also expand its digital rights.

Fox said the new agreement would make it “the home to baseball’s marquee events for the next decade,” a nod to the fact that the deal lasts through 2028, seven years after a current eight-year pact between Fox and the league expires in 2021. Fox and Major League Baseball have been broadcast partners for more than two decades. The current pact between Fox and the league was valued at approximately $525 million per year.

The fees are believed to increase by 30% early on and by as much as 50% later in the term of the contract, according to people familiar with the matter. The cost of the overall package could come to as much as $5.1 billion, one of these people said, with the annual fee possibly increasing to $675 million early in the deal and more over the term of the contract.

ESPN and AT&T’s Turner Sports also hold baseball rights.

But having rights to baseball may be of even more importance to 21st Century Fox than in the past. The company will be significantly smaller after the expected closing of a sale of the bulk of its assets to Walt Disney Co. in early 2019. After that transaction takes place, the “new Fox” will hinge largely on Fox News Channel, Fox Broadcasting and Fox Sports. The company is betting that live news and sports coverage will grow in value in an era when consumers can watch scripted entertainment at times of their own choosing, often through subscription-video services. In recent months. Fox has spent big to win new Thursday-night football rights from the NFL; professional-wrestling matches from WWE; and even Saturday afternoon bowling from the PBA.

“This significant multi-year agreement not only cements Fox’s role as Major League Baseball’s number one broadcast partner, it ensures that FOX will remain America’s leader in live sports well into the future,” said Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, in a prepared statement.

Fox will continue to broadcast two regular-season MLB games each Saturday, and have rights to  highlights packages as well as MLB-centric programs and Spanish-language rights through Fox Deportes.  Beginning in 2022, the amount of regular season and postseason games televised by the Fox broadcast network will increase, the two sides said. The agreement will include expanded streaming, social media and highlight rights.  MLB said Fox will will televise special event games “to be determined over the term of the agreement.”

 

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