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In Demand’s Extra Innings Play Whiffs at MLB

Major League Baseball Wednesday rejected In Demand’s offer to match the terms of DirecTV’s $700 million, seven-year deal with the league, including carriage of The Baseball Channel when it launches in 2009 to at least the same number of subscribers who will get the channel via the direct-broadcast satellite service.

“Today Major League Baseball received communication from In Demand,” MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said in a prepared statement. “The offer to match the terms of the agreement reached by MLB and DirecTV remains open to In Demand and Dish until the deadline of March 31, 2007. The communication sent to our office today by In Demand is not responsive to that offer.”

He added, “In spite of their public comments, the response falls short of nearly all of the material conditions (among them requirements for carriage of The Baseball Channel and their share of the rights fees for Extra Innings) set forth in the Major League Baseball offer made to them on March 9.”

In Demand president Rob Jacobson responded with his own prepared statement: “By rejecting this matching offer, MLB has proven that it never intended for In Demand to have a fair and equal opportunity to bid for Extra Innings. We, like many, many others, question MLB’s commitment to its fansby limiting distribution of both Extra Innings and the Baseball Channel. We have offered to carry The Baseball Channel to the same number of subscribers as DirecTV and have offered the same compensation to MLB as DirecTV. Our offer was fully responsive to MLB's requirements and publicstatements.

Jacobsen said earlier Wednesday, prior to the league’s rejection, that the industry would match DirecTV’s price for the package -- reported to be $700 million -- as well as distribute the league’s upstart Baseball Channel to as many subscribers as DirecTV does when the network launches in 2009 through In Demand’s three owners: Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications.

DirecTV has said that it will distribute the network to at least 15 million subscribers as part of its basic programming tier.

Jacobson added that he believes the deal matches the terms and conditions that the league outlined for the industry to secure rights to the Extra Innings package.

“What MLB has said publicly is that they’re looking for similar carriage as DirecTV,” he said. “I think I did them even one better by offering them at least the same amount of carriage as DirecTV just from [In Demand’s owners]. Nothing in any way would prohibit them from calling up Cablevision [Systems], Charter [Communications], Mediacom [Communications], EchoStar [Communications], Verizon [Communications], AT&T and securing even better distribution for the channel."

He added, “With the In Demand partners and DirecTV, it would launch in at least 30 million homes, and if they can get the other [distributors], you’re talking a number that would be the most significant launch of a cable channel in history.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who weighed in against the DirecTV-MLB deal in late January, said in a prepared statement, “The baseball season starts in a couple of weeks. MLB must sit down with the carriers and come to an agreement that ensures that all fans continue to have access to baseball as we begin the 2007 season. I want to see an agreement that is good for fans and consumers, and time is short. I look forward to exploring these issues at our hearing March 27.”

The first pitch of the 2007 MLB season is scheduled for Sunday night, April 1, when the New York Mets take on the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN.