ESPN Sets Monday Night Baseball

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ESPN will have Monday Night Baseball games to complement its recently acquired Monday Night Football package as part of a new eight-year, multimillion-dollar agreement between the network and Major League Baseball, announced Wednesday.

But the deal -- which also renews ESPN’s exclusive Sunday Night Baseball rights and Wednesday-night telecasts -- leaves the door open for other competitors like Comcast Corp.’s OLN to secure a national MLB-game package.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but ESPN will telecast as many as 80 games per year through 2013, according to ESPN executives. ESPN/ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said the deal significantly “enhances the value of our summer cornerstone television programming.”

While commending ESPN on its coverage and support of baseball, MLB commissioner Bud Selig said the league will remain “flexible” in its national rights deals, and he would not rule out offering another package of games to other cable networks.

Executives from OLN would not comment on the matter, but company sources have said that the network -- which recently acquired National Hockey League telecasts -- is interested in baseball programming.

Along with acquiring a newly created MLB package, OLN could bid for a package of weekday games and postseason telecasts that expires in 2006, which currently airs on ESPN and ESPN2 as part of The Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of Fox Family Channel. Those rights, however, are held by FSN, and they could be included in an overall Fox renewal of its broadcast deal with baseball, which also expires next year.

Baseball could also place games on its proposed Baseball Channel, although Selig would not reveal programming specifics or a launch date for the service.

The ESPN-MLB deal also includes rights to several of the league’s All-Star Week events -- including the All-Star Home Run Derby, the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game -- and up to 10 spring-training games in each year of the agreement.

And the network receives the right to produce a new live, pregame, batting-practice program, which will generally originate from the site of ESPN’s Monday-night telecast.

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