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Cable, Dish Holding Up on 'Extra Innings'

With two weeks left before opening day, EchoStar Communications's Dish Network and the cable industry remain unwilling to take a swing at the most recent pitch for distribution of the Major League Baseball “Extra Innings” package.

EchoStar last week seemed to back away from MLB's offer, which gives cable operators and Dish the ability to secure the out-of-market package by March 31, if the parties agree to match terms of DirecTV's seven-year, $700 million deal. That pact includes the subscription package, as well as basic-tier distribution for MLB›s upstart 24/7 channel in 2009.

But during an on-air “Charlie Chat” with subscribers last week, EchoStar executives complained that baseball's latest offer doesn't give Dish or operators the ability to match DirecTV's 20% equity stake in the new baseball channel. The value of the channel — only expected to carry 26 live baseball games — diminishes greatly without the equity component and could increase EchoStar fees to consumers by 400%, according to the company.

A spokeswoman for In Demand, which has been negotiating for the cable industry, said the company is still in discussions with MLB, but declined to elaborate on or characterize the talks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has set a March 27 hearing date to examine the deal's implications. Representatives from DirecTV, EchoStar and In Demand declined comment about the Capitol Hill session.

As baseball, Dish and cable try to hash out a deal, DirecTV has been quietly promoting its $159 Extra Innings package — along with a $39 “Superpass” interactive offering on its Web site. DirecTV subscribers can order the package online at or by phone.

A DirecTV spokesman said the company is aggressively promoting the package in customer-targeted bill stuffers and monthly magazines, but has yet to announce plans for a national ad campaign.

Executive vice president of entertainment Eric Shanks said that under normal circumstances, DirecTV would have begun marketing the package March 1.

But these aren't normal circumstances. Evidently, DirecTV's hands are tied for the most part until cable decides whether it's going to take MLB's final Extra Innings offer. If cable and Dish's strategy is to wait until March 31 before deciding to pass, DirecTV would hold the package exclusively, but it wouldn't be able to market that fact to consumers until the day the 2007 MLB season begins on April 1.