MLB May Shut Out ESPN Baseball Move


New York -- Major League Baseball is taking exception to a
proposed ESPN plan to move its Sunday-night telecasts to sister station ESPN2 in the fall,
but MLB has no complaints with FX switching its cable package from Monday nights to
Saturday nights.

ESPN is proposing to move its Sunday-night baseball
telecasts to ESPN2 beginning in September to make room for its new National Football
League package. ESPN's eight-year, $600 million-per-year NFL deal, reached last
month, includes Turner Network Television's former half of the cable package, which
runs from September through late October.

For ESPN, the move would almost certainly increase the
value of ESPN2, which is currently in nearly 55 million homes. Plus, ratings for
Sunday-night NFL games -- which averaged around 7.6 last year -- dwarfed the 2.0 ratings
generated by last year's Sunday-night baseball games, providing ESPN with greater
advertising-sales potential.

But Richard Levin, spokesman for MLB, said ESPN2's
reach is too limited to support such a move, compared with ESPN's 72.9
million-subscriber base.

Further, the league claims that its contract with the
network allows for carriage on ESPN only, although there have been instances where
individual games have been moved to ESPN2.

'They need our approval, and we do not want to move to
ESPN2,' Levin said. 'Our contract said we would be on ESPN.'

ESPN would only say that it has had 'several
discussions' with the league about the 'opportunities presented by the
distribution of baseball on ESPN2. MLB is a valued partner, and we continue to work with
them to reach a satisfactory resolution.'

One change that MLB approved of is the move of FX's
Monday-night package to Saturdays. By moving its 26-game package, the network will
continue its Saturday-night, primetime sports presence, which began late last year with
men's college basketball, said Chuck Saftler, vice president of programming for FX.

'Major League Baseball is the centerpiece of our
sports programming,' Saftler said. 'We're excited about the schedule change
because Saturday-night sports programming is an important part of our weekly primetime

Saftler declined to reveal how the baseball games fared on
FX last year, but he did say that the package's performance should improve with the
move, especially since FX's overall primetime ratings have improved. With the
addition of popular off-network shows NYPD Blue and TheX-Files, the
network is now averaging around a 1.0 primetime rating, which could have a positive
carryover effect for baseball.

'As a result of the network's tremendous growth
over the past six months, we believe that this move will allow us to use our highly
popular, weekly primetime schedule as a vehicle for maximizing promotion of
baseball,' Saftler said.