MLB concludes Turner rights extension and turns sights to ESPN renewal
Turner Sports, the US media giant, has finalised a deal with North America’s Major League Baseball to retain domestic rights until 2028.
The seven-year agreement, which takes effect in 2022, is worth around $3.2 billion.
WarnerMedia, the parent company of Turner Sports, will pay the league an average $470 million per year, a 40 per cent increase on the $325 million it pays in its present eight-year deal, which expires after the 2021 season.
The MLB confirmed Turner will retain the same post-season inventory – one Wild Card Game, two Division Series and one League Championship Series each season, with the rights alternating between games in the American League and National League.
The deal will now include a weekly Tuesday night game to replace its Sunday coverage, which will be aired on TBS. It also includes expanded digital rights for Turner-owned Bleacher Report and other WarnerMedia platforms, including increased use of MLB footage and highlights.
The deal is in line with the seven-year, multi-platform extension MLB signed with national network Fox back in 2018, which also runs from 2022 to 2028. Fox’s deal is worth $714 million per year – a 36 per cent increase on the value of the previous contract.
The league also has an eight-year, $5.6 billion deal in place with ESPN, which expires at the end of 2021, with negotiations to take place on an extension.
Jeff Zucker, WarnerMedia sports and news chairman, said: “The commitment to baseball from Turner is as strong today as it has ever been. Our strategy is to present premium live sports and obviously extending our deal was an important pillar.”
Zucker added a key factor in WarnerMedia agreeing to the extension was its move to Tuesday, which will give Turner more opportunities to expand its baseball reach, as well as the expansion of digital rights, which could attract a younger audience.
Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner, said: “We think summer Sunday afternoons aren’t a great place to have them [the rights]. Fans have a lot of other things to do and there are two national windows the same day. The digital rights only used to be a language issue in the contracts but now they are substantive, economic rights.
“It was with Fox, it is with ESPN and it was significant in this deal. It is a recognition of the way the world now consumes entertainment.”
With the extension with Turner Sports concluded, Manfred said the league will turn its attention to securing a renewal with ESPN.
He said: “We are having on-going conversations with ESPN. I am hopeful we are going to make an agreement with them. It has probably been a little slower than it might have been because of the whole Covid-distraction issues.”
The 2020 MLB playoffs begin next week with the wild-card series, American League Division Series and American League Championship Series airing on Turner’s TBS.
Meanwhile, MLB has agreed a formal partnership with the regional Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, the league’s first alliance with an independent entity in the sport.
The MLB and the Atlantic League, which exists outside of the affiliated minor leagues of baseball, have an existing agreement for the MLB to use the Atlantic League as a testing site for new playing rules and equipment, which has been running for nearly two years.
The pair have worked together on testing emerging radar tracking technology to aid home plate umpires, as well as new on-field rules including shortened inning breaks and limits on mound visits.
Under the new agreement, as the league’s first 'Partner League', the Atlantic League will work with MLB to create a framework under which the pair will collaborate on joint marketing and promotional opportunities.
The MLB will also continue to use the Atlantic League as a testing site through to the 2023 season.