- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Major League Baseball yesterday extended its deal with DirecTV to offer the league’s package of out-of-market games, and said the satellite provider will also carry a new 24-hour MLB Channel that will debut in 2009.

In response to fan and government pressure, MLB also said it has offered the rights to the package at the same terms to InDemand, which represents several major cable operators, and to competing satellite provider Dish Network. The other operators have until the end of the month to sign on, or the package will be offered exclusively on DirecTV.

DirecTV, which is available in about 15 million households, has a similar exclusive deals with the NFL, NASCAR and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

“We’ve secured a worldwide leader,” MLB President Bob DuPuy said. “DirecTV’s commitment to sports and pushing the envelope with regard to Extra Innings and these out-of-market packages is unprecedented.”

DirecTV will pay a reported $700 million for the seven-year deal with baseball, though the value could decrease if other cable or satellite operators sign on.

Baseball has released few details about its planned MLB Channel, but it is generally believed that it will show a mix of live games, news shows and other baseball-related programming. Similar networks, such as NBA TV and NFL Network, have faced resistance in their efforts to be placed on the basic tiers of cable and satellite providers. The placement of the new baseball network on a basic tier is a key sticking point in the negotiations with InDemand and Dish Network.

News of a possible exclusive deal with DirecTV first surfaced last month and was met with immediate opposition from many baseball fans who said they were unable or unwilling to switch to DirecTV. The Federal Communications Committee, at the urging of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said it would investigate the matter.

DuPuy said the offer to other cable and satellite providers should stave off any chance of government intervention.

“We would hope that will alleviate those concerns,” DuPuy said. “I can believe that should help enormously in that area.”

Kerry said he would review the deal to see if it was in the best interests of fans.

“I’m encouraged that Major League Baseball may be willing to provide broader access to their games than what was initially proposed,” he said. “I will be watching closely to ensure the league works in good faith so that America’s pastime is available to all fans. My concern all along has been that fans continue to have the ability to enjoy baseball on television.”

MLB officials yesterday said they would be content with an exclusive relationship with DirecTV but rejected the suggestion MLB had pushed for an exclusive deal all along.

“This has been a month of open and competitive negotiations,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business. “That choice as to whether the package will appear on cable will not be made by us, but the cable operators.”