ESPN3 will be airing all 70 home games for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. In case you’re curious, the Skeeters are best known as “that indy team Roger Clemens pitched for a couple of times” and are currently known as “that independent league team that Tracy McGrady is pitching for.”
The new ESPN deal also contains the rights to the Roger Clemens Celebrity Slam Softball Game and the Atlantic League All-Star Game, which take place in July.
This is another example of ESPN gobbling up rights for random properties “just because.” Let’s be honest – they’re doing this just so in case McGrady does something awesome, they’ll already have personnel on-site to grab quotes and video for use with their footage on SportsCenter. If McGrady walks away from the club or struggles, it’s a sunk cost – but the worldwide leader is not exactly going to be out a pretty penny here. They’re minor league rights, what do you expect?
This actually does raise an interesting question about future minor league baseball rights. Most minor league clubs are broadcast on small local channels, with corresponding standard definition streaming on MiLB.tv. What if a network like ESPN, or a behemoth like Fox and their numerous national affiliates, decide to start gobbling up rights for teams with the intention of using them as part of an ESPN3/Fox Sports Go streaming package? Would Minor League Baseball be fine with their teams likely bringing in substantially more television revenue at the potential cost of losing exclusive streaming on their own service?
This is a topic worth exploring in the future. MiLB.tv hasn’t caught on like its major league brethren, and it really lacks the sexy features that MLB.tv has. Would outsourcing for better quality and wider coverage end up being the best course of action for all parties? We’ll see, but I think this Sugar Land deal could be the start of something very interesting for Minor League Baseball as a whole.