Major League Baseball returned ESPN's legal volley
last week, countersuing the network over the league's decision to terminate its
carriage deal with the network.
MLB filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York, claiming
that ESPN's attempt to move three Sunday-night baseball telecasts to ESPN2 to make
room for the network's National Football League package was a breach of contract.
Although ESPN has the right to pre-empt up to 10 MLB games
per year as part of its current six-year agreement, MLB argued that the NFL does not
qualify for pre-emption because it is a series of telecasts, and not a specific special
event, sources said.
ESPN executive vice president of programming Dick Glover
said much of the league's argument comes down to semantics.
"They don't feel that an NFL game is an event of
significance. Yet we have pre-empted baseball for an NHL [National Hockey League] game
[last week], and we will pre-empt another game [this week]," Glover said.
"It seems to me that their response is to play
semantic games instead of providing a substantiated response," he added.
But MLB spokesman Richard Levin maintained the
network's position that ESPN broke the contract by attempting to move the games to
"They think that [the argument] is semantics, but most
lawsuits over contract disputes deal with the semantics of the agreement," he said.
"The fact remains that they broke the contract."
ESPN sued the league earlier this month, after it was
notified that MLB was terminating its agreement, which runs through 2002, at the end of
this season. The network has 20 days to respond.