Baseball Gets In the Game

Major League Baseball will have a channel of its own in 2005. League owners last week opted unanimously to create a 24-hour, digital-cable-based baseball network.

MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan will head up the channel, yet to be branded. It will launch in 2005, although it isn’t clear when in 2005, Brosnan said.

MLB will join the National Football League (NFL Network), the National Basketball Association (NBA TV) and the National Hockey League (NHL Network) in offering dedicated, 24-hour networks.

Brosnan would not reveal content plans, but sources said there would be a mix of classic games, highlight packages and other original programming – and no live games.

Brosnan would not reveal how much was allocated for startup costs, or rate-card terms.

While baseball wants digital cable distribution, it would not rule out carriage on sports tiers, unlike the NFL, which insists on digital basic.

“I don’t think putting out ultimatums is the best way to set about negotiating with anyone,” Brosnan said. “I think our expectations are to get the best deals that we can with the best partners that we can.”

Given cable’s desire to drive digital and baseball’s history with various national TV agreements, Brosnan is optimistic the channel will be well received. “The digital universe is supplying more opportunity, and we believe that of all the content providers, we have the kind of depth and frequency that could drive a channel,” said Brosnan. “The market conditions are in our favor to go out and have some success.”

Kagan Associates sports analyst John Mansell said baseball could gain leverage in upcoming negotiations for a new TV agreement. ESPN’s baseball deal expires after the 2005 season, while News Corp.’s broadcast deal ends in 2006.

Baseball also could add some interest with live games.

“It’s a subtle shot across the bow of cable operators and DBS from baseball,” Mansell said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.