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The following is a detailed description of the various television networks (both broadcast and cable), rights fees, and announcers who have called Major League Baseball games throughout the years (from the late 1930s through the present).
The Baseball Network (ABC)
Fox Sports Net
Fox Family Channel
The Baseball Network (NBC)
Fox Sports 1
|1953-1954; 1960; 1965
|Saturday night||The Baseball Network (ABC)
Sportsnet and Réseau des sports (RDS) are the current national rightsholders, in English and French respectively, to Major League Baseball, and both air a variety of regular-season games (which do not always correspond to those carried nationally in the U.S.) as well as the All-Star Game and the postseason. In the past these rights were held by The Score (2001-2002), TSN (1990-2000), and CTV (1981-1996). In 2010, Sportsnet began subleasing its rights to Sunday Night Baseball to rival TSN2, in return for TSN yielding its remaining rights to Toronto Blue Jays games to Sportsnet.
As presently the only MLB team in Canada, all Blue Jays games are also aired nationally in that country. These rights are negotiated by the team itself, not MLB, with all games currently airing on the co-owned Sportsnet and Sportsnet One in English, while TVA Sports has French-language rights to selected Blue Jays games. Other Canadian broadcasters have carried these games in the past, with TSN being the team's main carrier from 1984 to 1998 (and in a lesser role until 2009), and CBC and CTV also providing national coverage of some games at various points over the course of the team's history.
After the 1939 World's Fair showed the new technology called television, experimental station W2XBS aired the first televised major league baseball games, a double header between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers on August 26, 1939.
In 1953, ABC-TV executive Edgar J. Scherick (who would later go on to create Wide World of Sports) broached a Saturday Game of the Week-TV sport's first network series. At the time, ABC was labeled a "nothing network" that had fewer outlets than CBS or NBC. ABC also needed paid programming or "anything for bills" as Scherick put it. At first, ABC hesitated at the idea of a nationally televised regular season baseball program. ABC wondered how exactly the Game of the Week would reach television in the first place and who would notice if it did. In April 1953, Edgar Scherick set out to sell teams rights but instead, only got the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox to sign on. To make matters worse, Major League Baseball barred the Game of the Week from airing within 50 miles of any ballpark. Major League Baseball according to Scherick, insisted on protecting local coverage and didn't care about national appeal. ABC though, did care about the national appeal and claimed that "most of America was still up for grabs."
CBS took over the Saturday Game in 1955 (the rights were actually set up through the Falstaff Brewing Corporation,) retaining Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner as the announcers and adding Sunday coverage in 1957.
In 1959, ABC broadcast the best-of-three playoff series (to decide the National League pennant) between Milwaukee Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. The cigarette company L&M was in charge of all of the telecasts. Bud Blattner (who was still working for CBS in the regular season) was one of the announcers.
In 1960, ABC returned to baseball broadcasting with a series of late-afternoon Saturday games. Jack Buck and Carl Erskine were the lead announcing crew for this series, which lasted one season.
ABC typically did three games a week. Two of the games were always from the Eastern or Central Time Zone. The late games (no doubleheaders) were usually San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers' home games. However, the Milwaukee Braves used to start many of their Saturday home games late in the afternoon. So if the Giants and Dodgers were both the road at the same time, ABC still would be able to show a late game.
By 1964, CBS' Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese worked Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. New York got $550,000 of CBS' $895,000. Six clubs that exclusively played nationally televised games on NBC got $1.2 million.
ABC paid $5.7 million for the rights to the 28 Saturday/holiday Games of the Week. ABC's deal covered all of the teams except the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies (who had their own television deals) and called for two regionalized games on Saturdays, Independence Day, and Labor Day. ABC blacked out the games in the home cities of the clubs playing those games.
On October 19, 1965, NBC signed a three-year contract with Major League Baseball. The year before, NBC lost the rights to the Saturday-Sunday Game of the Week. In addition, the previous deal limited CBS to covering only 12 weekends when its new subsidiary, the New York Yankees, played at home. The new package under NBC called for 28 games compared to 1960's three-network 123.
Under the new deal, NBC paid roughly $6 million per year for the 25 Games of the Week, $6.1 million for the 1967 World Series and 1967 All-Star Game, and $6.5 million for the 1968 World Series and 1968 All-Star Game. This brought the total value of the contract (which included three Monday night telecasts) up to $30.6 million.
By 1969, Major League Baseball had grown to 24 teams and the net local TV revenues had leaped to $20.7 million. This is in sharp contrast to 1950 when local television brought the then 16 Major League clubs a total net income of $2.3 million. Changes baseball underwent during this time, such as expansion franchises and increasing the schedule from 154 games to 162, led to a wider audience for network and local television.
From 1972-1975 NBC televised Monday games under a contract worth $72 million. In 1973, NBC extended the Monday night telecasts (with a local blackout) to 15 straight. On September 1, 1975, NBC's last Monday Night Baseball game, in which the Montréal Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5.
In the aftermath of the thrilling 1975 World Series, attendance figures, television contracts (this time including two networks, NBC and now ABC), and player salaries all soared. In the eyes of some, that particular World Series restored baseball as America's national pastime (ahead of football).
Under the initial agreement with ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball (1976-1979), the two networks paid a combined $92.8 million. ABC paid $12.5 million per year to show 16 Monday night games in 1976, 18 in the next three years, plus half the postseason (the League Championship Series in even numbered years and World Series in odd numbered years). NBC paid $10.7 million per year to show 25 Saturday Games of the Week and the other half of the postseason (the League Championship Series in odd numbered years and World Series in even numbered years).
Major League Baseball media director John Lazarus said of the new arrangement between NBC and ABC "Ratings couldn't get more from one network so we approached another." NBC's Joe Garagiola wasn't very fond of new broadcasting arrangement at first saying "I wished they hadn't got half the package. Still, Game, half of the postseason - we got lots left." By 1980, income from TV accounted for a record 30% of the game's $500 million in revenues.
In 1980, 22 teams (all but the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals) took part in a one-year cable deal with UA-Columbia. The deal involved the airing of a Thursday night Game of the Week in markets at least 50 miles (80 km) from a major league park. The deal earned Major League Baseball less than $500,000, but led to a new two-year contract for 40-45 games per season.
On April 7, 1983, Major League Baseball, ABC, and NBC agreed to terms of a six-year television package worth $1.2 billion. The two networks would continue to alternate coverage of the playoffs (ABC in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years), World Series (ABC would televise the World Series in odd numbered years and NBC in even numbered years), and All-Star Game (ABC would televise the All-Star Game in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years) through the 1989 season, with each of the 26 clubs receiving $7 million per year in return (even if no fans showed up). The last package gave each club $1.9 million per year. ABC contributed $575 million for regular season prime time and Sunday afternoons and NBC paid $550 million for thirty Saturday afternoon games.
By 1986, ABC only televised 13 Monday Night Baseball games. This was a fairly sharp contrast to the 18 games that were scheduled in 1978. The Sporting News believed that ABC paid Major League Baseball to not make them televise the regular season. TSN added that the network only wanted the sport for October anyway.
Note: The networks got $9 million when Major League Baseball expanded the League Championship Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven in 1985.
On December 14, 1988, CBS (under the guidance of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth) paid approximately $1.8 billion for exclusive television rights for over four years (beginning in 1990). CBS paid about $265 million each year for the World Series, League Championship Series, All-Star Game, and the Saturday Game of the Week. It was one of the largest agreements (to date) between the sport of baseball and the business of broadcasting.
On January 5, 1989, Major League Baseball signed a $400 million deal with ESPN, who would show over 175 games beginning in 1990. For the next four years, ESPN would televise six games a week (Sunday, Wednesday Night Baseball, doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus holidays).
The deal with CBS was also supposed to pay each team $10 million a year. A separate deal with cable TV would bring each team an additional $4 million. Each team could also cut its own deal with local TV. For example, the New York Yankees signed with a cable network (MSG) that would pay the team $41 million annually for 12 years. Radio broadcast rights can bring in additional money. Reportedly, after the huge TV contracts with CBS and ESPN were signed, ballclubs spent their excess millions on free agents.
In the end, CBS wound up losing approximately half a billion dollars from their television contract with Major League Baseball. CBS repeatedly asked Major League Baseball for a rebate, but MLB wasn't willing to do this.
After the fall-out from CBS' financial problems from their four-year-long television contract with Major League Baseball, MLB decided to go into the business of producing the telecasts themselves. After a four-year hiatus, ABC and NBC returned to Major League Baseball under the umbrella of a revenue sharing venture called "The Baseball Network."
Under a six-year plan, Major League Baseball was intended to receive 85% of the first $140 million in advertising revenue (or 87.5% of advertising revenues and corporate sponsorship from the games until sales top a specified level), 50% of the next $30 million, and 80% of any additional money. Prior to this, Major League Baseball was projected to take a projected 55% cut in rights fees and receive a typical rights fee from the networks. When compared to the previous TV deal with CBS, The Baseball Network was supposed to bring in 50% less of the broadcasting revenue. The advertisers were reportedly excited about the arrangement with The Baseball Network because the new package included several changes intended to boost ratings, especially among younger viewers.
Arranging broadcasts through The Baseball Network seemed, on the surface, to benefit NBC and ABC since it gave them a monopoly on broadcasting Major League Baseball. It also stood to benefit the networks because they reduced the risk associated with purchasing the broadcast rights outright. NBC and ABC attempted to create a loss-free environment for each other.
After NBC's coverage of the 1994 All-Star Game was complete, NBC was scheduled to televise six regular season games on Fridays or Saturdays in prime time. The networks had exclusive rights for the 12 regular season dates, in that no regional or national cable service or over-the-air broadcaster may telecast an MLB game on those dates. Baseball Night in America usually aired up to 14 games based on the viewers' region (affiliates chose games of local interest to carry) as opposed to a traditional coast-to-coast format. ABC would then pick up where NBC left off by televising six more regular season games. The regular season games fell under the Baseball Night in America umbrella which premiered on July 16, 1994.
In even numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series. In odd numbered years the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate.
The long term plans for The Baseball Network crumbled when the players went on strike on August 12, 1994 (thus forcing the cancellation of the World Series). In July 1995, ABC and NBC, who wound up having to share the duties of televising the 1995 World Series as a way to recoup (with ABC broadcasting Games 1, 4, and 5 and NBC broadcasting Games 2, 3, and 6), announced that they were opting out of their agreement with Major League Baseball. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. Others would argue that a primary reason for its failure was its abandoning of localized markets in favor of more lucrative and stable advertising contracts afforded by turning to a national model of broadcasting. Both networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th century.
In the end, the venture would lose $95 million in advertising and nearly $500 million in national and local spending.
Also in 1994, ESPN renewed its baseball contract for six years (through the 1999 season). The new deal was worth $42.5 million per year and $255 million overall. The deal was ultimately voided after the 1995 season and ESPN was pretty much forced to restructure their contract.
Soon after the Baseball Network fiasco, Major League Baseball made a deal with Fox and NBC on November 7, 1995. Fox paid a fraction less of the amount of money that CBS paid for the Major League Baseball television rights. Unlike The Baseball Network, Fox went back to the tried and true format of televising regular season games (approximately 16 weekly telecasts that normally began on Memorial Day weekend) on Saturday afternoons. Fox did however, continue a format that The Baseball Network started by offering games based purely on a viewer's region. Fox's approach has usually been to offer four regionalized telecasts, with exclusivity from 1-4 p.m. in each time zone. When Fox first got into baseball, it used the motto "Same game, new attitude."
Under the five-year deal (from 1996-2000) for a total of approximately $400 million, NBC didn't televise any regular season games. Instead, NBC only handled the All-Star Game and the American League Championship Series in even numbered years and the World Series and National League Championship Series in odd numbered years, in addition to three Division Series games in each of these five years.
Also in 1996, ESPN began a five-year contract with Major League Baseball worth $440 million and about $80 million per year. ESPN paid for the rights to a Wednesday doubleheader and the Sunday night Game of the Week, as well as all postseason games not aired on Fox or NBC. Major League Baseball staggered the times of first-round games to provide a full-day feast for viewers: ESPN could air games at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 11 p.m. EDT, with the broadcast networks telecasting the prime time game.
Beginning in 1997, Fox entered a four-year joint venture with Liberty Media Cable (which resulted in the placement of a Thursday night baseball game on Fox Sports Net alongside an FX Saturday night game, Fox Family would later replace Fox Sports Net) worth $172 million. The deal called for two games a week that aired games on its choice of two weeknights other than Wednesday, with no exclusivity.
In September 2000, Major League Baseball signed a six-year, $2.5 billion contract with Fox to show Saturday baseball, the All-Star Game, selected Division Series games and exclusive coverage of both League Championship Series and the World Series.
Under the previous five-year deal with NBC (1996-2000), Fox paid $115 million while NBC only paid $80 million per year. Fox paid about $575 million overall while NBC paid about $400 million overall. The difference between the Fox and the NBC contracts implicitly values Fox's Saturday Game of the Week at less than $90 million for five years. Before NBC officially decided to part ways with Major League Baseball (for the second time in about 12 years) on September 26, 2000, Fox's payment would've been $345 million while NBC would've paid $240 million. Before 1990, NBC had carried Major League Baseball since 1947.
We have notified Major League Baseball that we have passed on their offer and we wish them well going forward.-- NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer
After weeks of speculation and rumors, on July 11, 2006 at the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball and the Fox Broadcasting Company announced a renewal of their current contract through 2013. The contract would continue to give Fox exclusive rights to televise the World Series and the All-Star Game for the duration of the contract. The World Series would begin the Wednesday after the League Championship Series are completed.
OLN (now NBC Sports Network) was briefly considering picking up the rights to the Sunday and Wednesday games, which expired after the 2005 season. On September 14, 2005 however, ESPN, then the current rights holder, signed an eight-year contract with Major League Baseball, highlighted by the continuation of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball series with additional, exclusive team appearances.
Fox would also get exclusive rights to televise the American League Championship Series in odd years beginning in 2007, and exclusive rights to televise the National League Championship Series in even years beginning in 2008. Additionally, Fox would have the right to broadcast its regional Saturday Game of the Week package for all 26 weeks (up from 18 under the previous contract).
Additionally, Time Warner's TBS gained rights to a Sunday afternoon Game of the Week, beginning in the 2008 season. TBS will be allowed to choose the games that it will carry and may select a single team up to 13 times. These games will normally be shown outside the participating teams' markets, and thus TBS has the option of producing an alternate game in those markets. As of the 2008 season, they have decided against this. TBS also gained exclusive broadcast rights to the Division Series in both leagues, as well as any tiebreaking games. TBS will also gain the rights to the All-Star Game Selection Show, meaning that ESPN (which previously carried it) can only broadcast the information after it airs on TBS.
It was announced on October 17, 2006 that TBS will get exclusive rights to televise the National League Championship Series in odd years beginning in 2007, and exclusive rights to televise the American League Championship Series in even years beginning in 2008. This contract also runs through 2013. As part of the contract, TBS relinquished its rights to air Atlanta Braves games nationally after the 2007 season, by separating WTBS (now WPCH) channel 17 from the TBS network, rebranding as Peachtree TV on October 1, 2007. The new station would still air Atlanta Braves games. Those games have been made available to local cable and satellite operators in the Southeast for the 2008 season. In addition, some Braves games have appeared on TBS as part of the new package.
On August 28, 2012, it was announced that ESPN and Major League Baseball had agreed on a new eight-year deal that greatly increases the network's studio and game content across all of its platforms. Also it will increased ESPN's average yearly payment from about $360 million to approximately $700 million. ESPN also will return to broadcasting postseason baseball beginning in 2014 with one of two wild-card games each season. The network will alternate airing the American League and National League wild-card games each year. It also will have the rights to all potential regular-season tiebreaker games starting in 2014.
On September 19, 2012, Sports Business Daily reported that Major League Baseball would agree to separate eight-year television deals with Fox Sports and Turner Sports through the 2021 season. Fox would reportedly pay around $4 billion over eight years (close to $500 million per year) while Turner would pay around $2.8 billion over eight years (more than $300 million per year). Under the new deals, Fox and TBS's coverage would essentially be the same as in the 2007-2013 contract with the exception of Fox and TBS splitting coverage of the Division Series, which TBS has broadcast exclusively dating back to 2007. More importantly, Fox would carry some of the games (such as the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week) on its all-sports channel, Fox Sports 1. Sources also said that was possible that Fox would sell some Division Series games to MLB Network, which did end up occurring.
It was reported that when DirecTV and Major League Baseball completed their deal for MLB Extra Innings in 2007, the deal will include DirecTV carrying Major League Baseball's league owned MLB Network, at first on an exclusive basis. With the later agreement between MLB and iN DEMAND expanding the distribution of Extra Innings to cable, it was announced the MLB Network will also be carried on most major cable services starting January 1, 2009. The channel airs Thursday night games (and simulcasts games on Saturdays and other days from RSN feeds) and a daily highlight show (although ESPN's Baseball Tonight will be protected for the duration of ESPN's current TV deal).