One domino has fallen in the conversation about the MLB rights that are expiring after this season. ESPN has agreed to renew their contract with Major League Baseball, to the tune of eight years and $5.6 billion, or about $700 million per season. The $700 million is more than twice what ESPN is currently paying ($306 million), and the overall benefits are actually very insignificant. ESPN gets one wild card playoff game, and picks up some radio, digital, and international rights. They also retain the rights to Sunday Night Baseball, Monday and Wednesday games, and highlights for Baseball Tonight.
The fact that ESPN doubled what they're paying per year for, essentially, one playoff game speaks to the power that TV rights for major sports hold over the networks. There are a couple of benefits, though. ESPN will increase their total amount of live games by 13%, and perhaps most importantly, the deal gets rid of blackouts on all ESPN broadcasted games. Every baseball fan is pretty much high fiving and doing backflips when hearing the words "no blackouts". Currently, the Monday and Wednesday games are blacked out in home markets of the teams involved due to the presence of a local feed. This is never an issue for Sunday Night Baseball because of ESPN's exclusivity rights with the broadcast, and the fact that the one game is aired nationally.
The most interesting parts of this deal are related to other entities. Will ESPN have enough money left after this deal to re-up with NASCAR and the Big East, whose rights are also up for grabs? What does this do for the value of the Saturday MLB package currently held by Fox? Everyone expected ESPN and MLB to continue their contract, but I don't think anyone could have predicted a doubling of the money involved. Another ineresting aside is the removal of blackouts for Monday and Wednesday games. Is this going to potentially open the door for Fox to get rid of Saturday blackouts for all games in the timeframe? I think that would pretty much be nirvana for a baseball fan, and would do a lot in appeasing fans of the league.
[h/t: Sports Business Daily]