The largest broadcasting deal in Major League Baseball history was announced on Tuesday, as MLB and ESPN reached an eight-year, $5.6 billion agreement that keeps the national pastime on that network through 2021 and puts ESPN back in the postseason picture next season.
The contract includes a record-setting increase in annual rights fees, as ESPN's $700 million per year marks an increase of 100 percent over its current deal, setting an all-time record for an MLB broadcasting deal. The pact grants ESPN, the Walt Disney Co.-owned network that began televising MLB games in 1990, a significant increase in studio and game content, including the right to broadcast up to 90 regular-season MLB games per year across the ESPN networks beginning in 2014 and running through the 2021 season.
ESPN will continue to telecast three MLB windows each week, including Monday nights, Wednesday nights and the nationally exclusive "Sunday Night Baseball" franchise.
Starting in 2014, ESPN will be back in the business of televising postseason action, with one of the two Wild Card Games presented by Budweiser. ESPN will alternate airing the American League and National League Wild Card Games each year. Also starting in 2014, ESPN will have the rights to all potential regular-season tiebreaker games.
"In a year of record achievements, today is a very historic day for baseball as we announce a new eight-year agreement with ESPN that will take us into a fourth decade of working together," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "ESPN's financial commitment to MLB is extraordinary. It is testament not only to the unprecedented strength of the game, but also to the popularity among its fans. Attendance is on pace to pass the record single-season total, we have unprecedented labor peace and competitive balance stronger than ever, and today's announcement is further proof that we are truly living in a golden age of the sport."
"Baseball remains the national pastime," ESPN President John Skipper said. "We're thrilled to renew our long-standing agreement with Major League Baseball into the next decade. It's a great property. The enormous scope of what we acquired will provide fans with more live baseball and more ways to access baseball content than ever before."
MLB also is seeking new deals with FOX and Turner Broadcasting, its other two national rights holders. Those contracts expire at the end of the 2013 season, and the exclusive negotiating window for those networks has passed.
"There are other available [packages] and we are in the process of working on them, and hopefully in the reasonably near future we will have announcements to make on them," Selig said. "This is just the most dramatic way for us to say not only is this the golden era, but look at what other people think. In this and in deals to come, you are going to see further dramatic indications of that."
This new agreement covers TV and radio rights to MLB programming both in the U.S. and internationally, and will include expanded hours of "Baseball Tonight" and other ancillary baseball programming across ESPN platforms. In addition, ESPN MLB game telecasts and other baseball programming will be available via ESPN3.com and the Watch ESPN app.
ESPN will showcase each of the 30 clubs at least once per season in a live telecast. The maximum number of times an MLB may appear in a Sunday Night Baseball game will increase from five to six. The Red Sox and Yankees have waged their rivalry three times in that ESPN time slot in 2012.
ESPN will continue to have exclusive TV rights to certain MLB All-Star Week events, including the State Farm Home Run Derby and Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. It will air a nationally exclusive Opening Night game, as well as full coverage of Opening Day and national holiday games, such as Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. The contract also calls for up to 10 Spring Training games per year.
In each year of the agreement, ESPN will air six one-hour specials created by MLB Productions, the Emmy Award-winning television and video production division of MLB.
Both parties said the deal increases the impact of coverage in Latin America and for Spanish-language fans, including those fans of ESPN Deportes.
"The international aspect is critically important to me and to us," Selig said. "You're going to see great growth in all that. This deal will help us immeasurably in a myriad of ways as we carry this game all over. I'm delighted in many ways, and that is certainly one of them."
Skipper said it also was important to fortify its "SportsCenter" centerpiece going forward by being able to include "increased highlights and show in-progress highlights, very important to us as we continue the vitality of that franchise."
"Through its various networks and other media platforms," Selig said, "ESPN offers baseball fans more avenues to experience the game than ever before, and we're thankful for their continued support."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.