If you turned on ESPN on Sunday night expecting to watch a Sunday night edition of 30 for 30 or some other programming, you might have been surprised to see World Baseball Classic action between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico coming to you from ESPN Deportes. Not everyone was happy to see it, but in full honesty, it's a smart move. With a light NBA schedule plus the college basketball conference tournaments transititioning from the mid-majors to the "BCS" leagues, why not put the WBC on the Mothership en Español?
Now ESPN does not have the English language rights to the World Baseball Classic, that belongs to MLB Network. But ESPN signed up for the US Spanish language rights for its Deportes channel. And just last week announced that Sunday night's ESPN Deportes simulcast on ESPN would be the first of two such instances during the WBC, the other would be this Tuesday afternoon on ESPN2.
You ask, "Why would ESPN do this?" First, it's a way to siphon off some viewership from MLB Network. Yes, the games are being aired in Spanish, but if you don't get MLB Network, this is a way for you to watch the World Baseball Classic.
In addition, ESPN has language in its contract allowing it to put games on any platform it chooses. Since the World Baseball Classic games are being aired in Spanish, it's not in conflict with MLB Network's contract so the games can air on the Mothership and the Deuce. Had Sunday's game involved Team USA, MLB Network may have raised a stink, but with it having two teams from the Caribbean, MLB signed off. And with ESPN's wider distribution, it might have a bigger cable rating than MLB Network. A Spanish language broadcast of two Caribbean teams makes sense for ESPN with that growing demographic. It's also a way for ESPN to get around not having the broadcast rights to certain international sporting events. If more viewers are going to tune in for Spanish lanugage WBC coverage than whatever documentary or program ESPN was planning to show, it's a success for the network.
Could we expect more of this if ESPN Deportes has an event that ESPN can't air in English? One would have to think so. Not only can the Worldwide Leader air the event on its main network, it can use a loophole stating that it's in another language. Not only is this an opportunity for ESPN to air a game on the Mothership, it's a chance to promote Deportes to a new audience and show the Spanish version of Robinson Cano's "This is SportsCenter" promo.
So don't fret if ESPN airs a Deportes event. It's a way for you to see a game that might be on a channel that your cable provider may not have. And you can brush up on your Spanish.