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Petitti: WBC is Key Addition to MLB Network's Roster

Tony Petitti flew back home from San Francisco after the first two games of the World Series, and is now in Detroit for middle three games of the 2012 Fall Classic.

But the president MLB Network president and CEO Tony Petitti of MLB Network also has eye on a competition that will play out next March: the third iteration of the World Baseball Classic.

World Baseball Classic, Inc. last week selected MLB Network as the exclusive English-language telecast partner in the United States for both the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic tournaments. Team Japan won the inaugural competition in 2006 and repeated three years later.

MLB Network, which last month aired some of the qualifying games for the expanded tournament, will televise the event’s 39 games in March, as well as a host of ancillary programming around hardball's version of the World Cup.

“The second World Baseball Classic was part of the lineup when the network launched in 2009,” said Petitti. “It’s a very strong property that has driven audiences in the past. We’re really excited about showcasing this event exclusively.”

MLBN is airing a promo during the World Series that highlights memorable moments of the two previous tournaments.

Four years ago, ESPN and ESPN2 combined on coverage of 23 games, while the then-rookie MLB Network aired 16 games.

Officials for WBCI, the joint committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association that runs the tournament, said discussions are continuing with multiple networks for Spanish-language rights for the March event. In 2009, all WBC games were televised in the U.S. by ESPN Deportes.

Petitti said that over the course of ongoing negotiations over the summer, MLB International and MLB Players Association were intrigued by "our being able to show the tournament from start to finish. It’s also important that we have the rights for 2017, that the World Baseball Classic has an anchor position.”

Petitti noted that the addition of the next two editions of WBC, as well as the pair of Division Series games MLBN televised -- Oakland-Detroit on Oct. 7 and St. Louis-Washington three days later both averaged a 1.3 rating, the best in the service’s history despite the afternoon start times -- underline the 70-million subscriber channel’s commitment to securing the rights to exclusive content and are key building blocks for continued affiliate growth.

“The two Division Series we aired this year, which will be part of lineup over life of the new national TV contracts, and the World Baseball Classic, have been very well-received by fans and distributors alike,” Petitti said, noting MLBN will face the bulk of its affiliate renewals over the course of 2013. “Having secured the next two WBC is very important as we enter this next period.”

MLB Network will televise all 39 games of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, highlighted by the semifinals and final from March 17-19 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and hosted by the San Francisco Giants. Second-round games will be hosted by the Miami Marlins from March 12-16 at Marlins Park and the Tokyo Dome in Japan. First-round competition is scheduled from March 7-10 at Chase Field in Phoenix and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. There will also be three international venues for the opening round the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome Intercontinental Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In the interim, MLBN will televise the final game of the qualifier pools, with action set from the New Taipei, Taiwan on Sunday Nov. 18 at 1 a.m. (ET) and Panama City, Panama on Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. (ET). All told, the 2013 World Baseball Classic will still feature a 16-team field in March as it did in 2009, but this go-round 28 teams were in the qualifying hunt.

Ballgames aside, MLBN will extensively cover the WBC within its studio lineup, including segments on MLB Tonight, Hot Stove, Intentional Talk and Clubhouse Confidential.

“We also will do programming around the selections of the teams and preview shows of the groups,” said Petitti.

With the WBC in the mix and the extensive number of contests from the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues on its slate  March is going to be a very busy month for MLBN. One casualty: the network’s popular 30 Clubs in 30 Days preview franchise will be scaled back and included as long segments within MLB Tonight.

“The World Baseball Classic takes place once every four years and there are a ton of spring training games,” Petitti said about the roll back for 30 Clubs. “But there’s going to be a lot of live baseball leading in to the regular season. We definitely like that.”