A new player is emerging in the race for MLB rights…CBS. The network is teaming with Turner in a bid for the MLB rights package currently being split with Fox, much like they do with NCAA basketball rights according to an SBJ report. Fox is also still involved in negotiations, and their bid is contingent on the creation of a national, 24 hour Fox Sports channel.
Based on the way negotiations are going right now, it looks as if only one of these rights providers will be standing alongside ESPN as MLB's broadcast rights partner. Both entities are pitching the idea to MLB of combining the packages, including all of the playoffs, and letting one conglomerate run everything. I actually think that's better for MLB, because it can get rather sloppy when wondering what series is on TBS and what series is on Fox come playoff time. The entry from CBS into the negotiations is a huge surprise considering CBS hasn't broadcasted MLB games since 1993.
Anyway, the details of the opening offers are rather similar to what each network is doing currently. Fox's offer has the World Series and most of the League Championship Series on the main network, while the Division Series and a solid majority of regular series games will be aired on the rumored Fox Sports national cable channel. The Turner/CBS offer will have just the World Series, portions of the LCS, and the All-Star Game on CBS, while everything else is on TBS.
Because of the nature of the MLB playoffs, it's nearly impossible for every playoff game to be aired on network television. Fox and CBS affiliates have local news to worry about during night games, and there are just a few more MLB playoff games than NFL playoff games, which both networks air yearly.
I can also understand the hesitancy MLB has with both parties. Would CBS use Turner broadcasters for their World Series, none of which are really a national exclusive voice, or use their own broadcasters, which could end poorly considering the network's lack of baseball programming in recent years? Would CBS/Turner also move too many regular season games to cable for MLB's liking? As for Fox, does MLB feel like it's time for a change after 15 years plus with the same partner? On the cable side, would MLB want to bet heavily on Fox's new sports channel instead of a trusted entity like Turner?
Where's NBC in this whole mess? Well, they've apparently fallen into a third place role behind both of the incumbents, and are apparently a long shot to win a bid on any rights. Not getting baseball would be a huge blow for the network.
I'd expect a resolution to this by the end of September, and my prediction is for Fox to win the rights. They have too much clout and experience broadcasting baseball nationally that they'll do whatever they can to keep and expand their rights. Especially if the rumored national cable sports network comes into play, expanding their own MLB package will be the best way to keep pace.
[h/t: Sports Business Journal]