Major League Baseball, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN have reached a seven-year rights agreement that will keep MLB on the network through 2028, Commissioner Rob Manfred and ESPN chairman James Pitaro announced Thursday.
Per the agreement, which begins in 2022, ESPN will exclusively televise 30 regular-season games annually. This will include Sunday Night Baseball, the Little League Classic and the national Opening Night telecast. In addition, ESPN will continue to exclusively carry the Home Run Derby and can nationally televise up to 10 Spring Training games per year.
As for the postseason, ESPN will have the rights to exclusively broadcast all MLB Wild Card Series starting in 2022, if that format is revived. If the current Wild Card format remains in place, ESPN will exclusively carry one of the two Wild Card Games, and it will gain eight additional regular-season games.
Baseball Tonight will remain the network’s premier pre-event show for its package of marquee events.
“ESPN has been one of MLB’s longest and most important partners,” Manfred said in a press release. “This extension continues the evolution of our relationship with a focus on utilizing ESPN’s extensive assets to shine a spotlight on key matchups throughout the year. With reach across broadcast, cable, streaming and social, ESPN is able to deliver MLB action to our broad fanbase across multiple platforms. As the way in which fans consume baseball continues to change, this partnership provides expanded opportunities for fans to engage with our content, and we are excited to present those new opportunities.”
“ESPN’s longstanding relationship with Major League Baseball has been a driver of innovation for three decades,” Pitaro said. “This agreement solidifies baseball’s ubiquitous presence across ESPN platforms, including ESPN+. The impactful collection of exclusive content, including Sunday Night Baseball which has served as the signature MLB series for more than 30 years, will be amplified by the surrounding rights we have to make these live events even bigger. We thank Commissioner Manfred and the MLB ownership group for their partnership and commitment as we collectively uncover new ways to serve fans.”
ESPN will have the rights to produce alternate presentations across all of its platforms for each of its live events, as well as the opportunity to simulcast ESPN and ABC telecasts on ESPN+. ESPN+ will continue to televise select MLB games, subject to blackout restrictions, nearly every day of the regular season. ESPN also will gain the rights to create new MLB content for the streaming service, including studio shows and highlight-driven programming.
As part of the new deal, ESPN Radio will continue to nationally broadcast MLB games, including the full postseason and World Series, the All-Star Game, the Little League Classic, Sunday Night Baseball and Opening Night. ESPN Deportes (ESPN’s Spanish-language platform) will also continue to broadcast live events and studio coverage through the regular season and postseason.
Furthermore, the agreement will increase ESPN’s highlight rights for all of its platforms.
MLB’s current agreement with ESPN began in 2014 and runs through ’21. The relationship between the two entities began in 1989, when ESPN and MLB signed their first rights agreement.
While MLB viewership was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the national pastime has bounced back in a big way this season.
Viewership for Sunday Night Baseball is up 33% compared to the full-season average in 2020, and there have been strong gains in young and female viewers.
MLB Network viewership is up 48% from 2020, and MLB.TV has set a record pace in the early going. In the first 41 days of the season, users viewed more than 2.8 billion live-game minutes on MLB.TV, making it the most-watched stretch in the service’s history. MLB.TV has had its eight highest viewership days ever during the 2021 season.