- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

A group representing most major cable companies said yesterday it had matched the terms offered by DirecTV for the rights to offer Major League Baseball’s package of out-of-market games, but MLB immediately responded by saying the offer fell short of what was required.

iN DEMAND Networks, a programming distributor owned by several of the largest cable providers, said it is willing to sign a seven-year deal to offer baseball’s “Extra Innings” package, as well as carry a 24-hour baseball network beginning in 2009.

“Throughout this entire process, our goal has always been to respect the wishes of baseball fans who currently subscribe to ‘Extra Innings’ through their local cable provider, and we stand ready to execute an agreement before the beginning of the baseball season,” said iN DEMAND president and CEO Robert D. Jacobson.

Baseball announced March 9 it had reached an agreement to offer the “Extra Innings” package on DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite television provider. MLB said other cable and satellite providers also could offer the package if they agreed to the same terms as DirecTV. Those terms included the payment of rights fees and the wide distribution of the 24-hour baseball channel.

“The communication sent to our office today by iN DEMAND is not responsive to that offer,” MLB president Bob DuPuy said. “In spite of their public comments, the response falls short of nearly all of the material conditions … set forth in the Major League Baseball offer made to them on March 9.”

DuPuy said the offer to match DirecTV’s terms remains valid until March 31.

MLB had been seeking an exclusive deal with DirecTV but allowed other cable and satellite operators the chance to match DirecTV’s terms after receiving pressure from fans and the federal government.

The Federal Communications Commission, at the urging of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, also said it would investigate the fairness of an exclusive agreement.

DirecTV has similar exclusive deals with the NFL, NASCAR and NCAA.

Jacobson said MLB’s refusal to accept iN DEMAND’s offer was proof that the league “never intended for iN DEMAND to have a fair and equal opportunity to bid for ‘Extra Innings.’ ”

“We, like many, many others, question MLB’s commitment to its fans by limiting distribution of both ‘Extra Innings’ and The Baseball Channel,” Jacobson said.

DuPuy and Jacobson are among those scheduled to testify Tuesday before Kerry’s Senate committee on the issue of exclusive deals in sports programming.

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