MLB May Ask Ops to Play Ball


Major League Baseball may soon be pitching operators about its own 24-hour channel.

MLB is currently polling league executives and team owners about the prospect of launching a digital service sometime in 2005 that would mostly offer nonlive game programming, including vintage contests and other baseball-related content, according to league executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan.

Baseball is the only major pro-sports league that has not launched a full-time network: Both the National Basketball Association and the National Football League have fledgling services, and the National Hockey League said this past week that it may roll its Canada-based NHL Network into the United States sometime next year.

Brosnan said MLB is not planning to pull live games from its national network distributors -- ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner Sports -- and it would opt instead to tap into the league’s programming vault, which features thousands of hours of vintage games and other shoulder programming.

But with its cable deal with ESPN ending in 2005 and its Fox broadcast-TV agreement concluding the following year, the league could use the network as a bargaining chip to extract better terms for package renewals.

Live games would certainly enhance the value and appeal of the network to baseball fans. NBA TV is offering 96 live games during the 2003-04 season, while the NFL Network isn’t offering any games to date, although it could choose to pull games out of its television agreements with ABC/ESPN, Fox Sports and CBS when those deals expire after the 2005 season.

For more on MLB’s potential channel, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page 2 of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.