MLB Network may be counting down toward its Jan. 1 launch, but network executives say the network is already looking ahead five years toward competing in major league negotiations for live regular-season and postseason baseball games.
Tony Petitti, president of the Major League Baseball-owned service, last week told a gathering of writers touring the network's massive 15,200 square-foot headquarters that the network — which will launch with a cable-record 50 million subscribers — plans to be competitive when the current postseason baseball packages become available in 2013. Currently, Turner Sports holds the rights to baseball's four division playoff series and splits the league's two championship series with Fox, the World Series rightsholder.
While Petitti says the network will have to increase its subscriber base — Dish Network and AT&T are the biggest holdouts — he believes that the network will be in a position to compete for a bigger piece of the live game pie. The network currently has rights to 26 live regular season games, most of which will run Thursday nights. For its games, the network will piggyback on the live regional sports network feed for its telecasts, but will utilize its own announcers.
“We want to be ready to take on anything … five years from now, when those deals come up, we would love to be considered as a viable alternative,” said Petitti. “The goal is to have as much meaningful baseball as possible over time, but in a few years, if we're doing our jobs right, we should be viable for anything.”
As for the channel's Jan. 1 debut — the network is already up and running on a test basis in several systems — MLB Network will run mostly highlight and classic game footage for the first two months, according to Petitti. MLB Network will go on the air at 6 p.m. New Year's Day with a live, one-hour Hot Stove studio show, immediately followed by Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, airing for the first time since its original broadcast and featuring new commentary by Larsen and Yogi Berra.
The network will also debut original shows and run specials throughout January, including Prime Nine, a countdown list series; and Baseball Seasons, which looks at a full season. The network will also feature special coverage of the Baseball Hall of Fame election and programming devoted to the Negro Leagues on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to network officials.
In late February, Petitti says the network will run live coverage of the Caribbean World Series as well as some live Spring training contests. In March the network will offer coverage of the World Baseball Classic. “We feel pretty good about the way we start,” he said.
In studio, the network will utilize two HD-ready studios to create its original content. Both will feature cutting-edge technology — one studio will feature a rotating desk and a “perceptive pixel” touch screen display allowing on-air talent to interact with and change graphics and images on-screen. The second studio — designed to replicate a baseball field complete with field turf, stadium seating and a real time scoreboard — will allow MLB Network personalities to demonstrate certain situations that take place on the field.