There’s an interesting rights discussion possibly coming up with ESPN and MLB. MLB has already extended their national deals with Fox (in 2018, through 2028) and Turner (this year, through 2028), but they haven’t yet announced an extension with ESPN. There isn’t necessarily a ton of urgency to that, as the current MLB-ESPN deal doesn’t expire until after the 2021 season, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on. And Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reported Monday (as a note in a column about NFL rights) that a new ESPN contract might see them going away from their current regular Monday and Wednesday night national games:
In other rights deal news, it is increasingly likely that if ESPN re-ups with MLB. It will try to center a package around “Sunday Night Baseball,” the Home Run Derby and the first round of potential expanded playoffs, according to sources. This would mean the weekly Monday and Wednesday national games would likely be sacrificed. ESPN could potentially have more key late-season games in a new deal. ESPN’s current contract with MLB expires after next season. No deal is done yet, but the amount of games it airs could go down from around 100 to 75.
There is maybe some logic to that. The Monday and Wednesday games often haven’t drawn great numbers, and part of that is because under the current package, ESPN’s Monday and Wednesday games are not exclusive (unlike their Sunday Night Baseball package, which is exclusive). That means the local fans of each team are likely watching those games on their local RSNs rather than ESPN. But beyond that, many of those games don’t have great matchups or notable playoff race implications.
And while there’s obviously some value for ESPN in carrying live sports events even without huge audience numbers (event totals are also notable for them in per-subscriber fee negotiations), live events come with production costs and rights fee costs. If ESPN is able to trade around 100 meh games for around 75 more notable late-season games (and a large chunk of an expanded postseason, if that happens), that could be okay. And that might be more than okay if they can do it without a dramatic expansion in their rights fee. That fee is probably going up, as the Fox and Turner fees went way up, but they might be able to keep it from going up even more.
This idea could also work out for MLB. While this would give them less national TV exposure (perhaps especially during the early part of the season), that isn’t necessarily all bad. Under the current system, that would just put more focus on their clubs’ RSN partners, and on their MLB.tv out-of-market packages. And there’s also the possibility of them maintaining the total number of “national” TV games here, and selling a package of what would have been on ESPN to a streaming outlet like YouTube.
At any rate, nothing here seems to be written in stone at this point, or even close to done. But it is notable to see Marchand reporting on how ESPN may move away from those Monday and Wednesday games. We’ll see what, if anything, comes of that.