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ESPN Seeks Total Package

Sports leagues' moves to withhold certain broadband and other rights from their main TV deals will threaten what ESPN is willing pay, network president George Bodenheimer said.

Leagues like the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are trying to hold certain rights out of their main TV packages, either for Webcasts or even their own basic cable networks.

That creates competition for TV networks, including ESPN. And Bodenheimer doesn’t like the idea of competition, since ESPN is already a player in broadband. Right now, for example, the network uses broadband packages to salt new carriage deals with cable operators.

While splitting off ancillary rights "may be a perfectly acceptable strategy in dealing with other networks, it’s not a particularly good strategy to approach us because we need ancillary rights to grow our existing businesses," said Bodenheimer, speaking to reporters about the network’s looming, hype-heavy 25th anniversary. "And we need the existing businesses to pay the rights holders what they continue to expect."

Bodenheimer is the leagues’ biggest customer, controlling ESPN’s $1.4 billion rights budget plus ABC’s $850 million piggybank.

The executive wouldn’t say how much less he’s pay for a given package that excluded certain ancillary rights. "Everybody’s deathly afraid of making a mistake," Bodenheimer explained. "'Oh my gosh, I gave up this ancillary right and it turned into a big business.’ Or from a network standpoint, ‘oh, I paid for this ancillary right but I can’t monetize it.'"