MLB nears UK TV deals as Mitel puts name to London series
By Jonathan Rest
Major League Baseball is closing in on a rights deal in the UK with public-service broadcaster the BBC to ensure free-to-air coverage of its first regular season games to be played in London in 2019, Sportcal has learned.
MLB officials have been in talks with prospective broadcasters in the UK since June and visited London in late-August for face-to-face talks.
Now Sportcal understands that a contract with the BBC for the 29 and 30 June contests between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, two of the league's most popular teams, to be played at the London Stadium, the former Olympic Stadium, is almost signed off, while a long-term renewal of MLB's deal with BT Sport, the UK pay-TV broadcaster, is also close to completion.
The league has already sealed a title sponsor for the games in both 2019 and 2020 (the teams for which have not been unveiled), today announcing a deal with Mitel, the business solutions company, at a launch event at the London Stadium.
The proposed TV deal will resemble what the NFL has done in the UK in recent years.
The American football league has played regular season games in London for the past decade, and since 2015 these have been shown on both the BBC and Sky, the pay-TV operator that is the NFL’s long-term media rights partner.
NBA basketball’s annual London game will be shown on Sky in January after the company replaced BT Sport as the UK rights-holder ahead of the 2018-19 season.
MLB has been televised on BT Sport since 2013 when US broadcaster ESPN sold its UK and Ireland TV channels business to the telecoms giant, and the anticipated renewal comes despite the broadcaster cutting back on its rights outlay in recent months.
Title sponsor Mitel signed a multi-year deal with MLB in February, becoming the official business technology and communications partner of the league.
As part of that deal, Mitel installed a unified communications system providing private and secure connections in dugouts, bullpens, video review rooms and press boxes across all of MLB’s 30 stadiums. It subsequently sealed agreements with a number of individual teams.
Mitel also the presenting partner of league-wide instant replay reviews.
As part of its overall integration with the MLB London Series, Mitel will develop and execute the same communications solutions in the buildout of the dugouts and bullpens at the London Stadium.
Mitel will get significant in-stadia signage and digital exposure, while replay technicians will sport Mitel wording on their apparel.
Richard Roberts, Mitel vice-president for UK/Ireland and EMEA channels, told Sportcal it was "too early to talk about activation," but said he was keen to see innovative communication tools used during the two games.
On the possibility of Yankees and Red Sox players being mic'ed up in the field - it has been trialled in a few MLB games - Roberts said: "Anything that connects the fans should be encouraged. It brings out that intimacy, especially if its a new sport, if you can use communication and collaboration technology to feel connected to it."
Roberts said of the MLB tie-up to date: "From a brand point of view it's been powerful, having the Mitel name on these stadiums, but it's also about getting people to ask questions. If baseball is using communication and collaboration technology to make the right call, what about businesses? What can they do, are they using communication and collaboration enough, and are they being challenging and innovative enough? It is opening up lots of conversations for us.
"As soon as we knew the intent of the MLB to come to the UK, to Europe, we had to be part of it. They have been a wonderful partner for us, and anything they're doing to expand into other markets, we had to be part of that... We are not targeting specifically sports franchises, but I think we use them as an example of what a high-performance business could do should they choose to."