TBS to Pay $350 Million to Televise Baseball Series

October 18, 2006|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 30 years ago, Ted Turner stirred things up by televising his Atlanta Braves throughout the nation on cable "superstation" WTBS -- without baseball's approval.

Turner Broadcasting and Major League Baseball have a considerably better relationship now.

In a seven-year deal worth as much as $350 million, the company's TBS network on Tuesday won the rights to televise a league championship series, beginning next season -- the first cable network to do so.

During a conference call, Commissioner Bud Selig said it made sense to go with TBS since it already had the division series, the first round of the playoffs.

"And the economics were what we wanted," he said.

The second round of baseball's postseason, the league championship series, has always been televised on broadcast networks, with a few exceptions when the Fox network would put a conflicting game on the FX cable network, also owned by News Corp.

Turner, which reportedly will pay between $45 million and $50 million a year for the rights, will alternate league championship series with Fox. TBS, which until the early 1980s was known as WTBS, starts off next season with the National League Championship Series.

In July, a contract was announced that called for TBS to televise the first round of the playoffs over the next seven years, with Fox carrying one of the league championship series and the World Series.

The other league championship series -- alternating between the American and National leagues each year -- was still up for bidding. Fox made it clear it had no interest to do both. Meanwhile, other broadcast networks also showed no interest, preferring not to have to preempt their fall entertainment lineups. That left cable networks.

What was surprising about Tuesday's announcement was that the network was TBS.

ESPN was seen as the front-runner.

"We were interested in the LCS but could not reach an agreement," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said.

ESPN will continue to televise regular-season baseball but now has no postseason games. However, ESPN Radio retains its rights to postseason coverage.

Comcast-owned Versus, formerly OLN, was also said to be in the running. A Versus spokesperson declined to comment, but it was believed that parent company Comcast never made a formal bid.

David Levy, president of Turner Sports, said all league championship series will be on TBS, and hoped all division series games would be on TBS as well. But, he said, if there are two games overlapping in the schedule, one of them could be shown on sister network TNT.

Selig said efforts would be made to avoid any overlapping.

"I hate it when we put two games on at the same time," he said.

Asked if there was concern that putting the league championship series on a cable network would mean lower ratings, Bob DuPuy, MLB's chief operating officer, said, "We're not ready to concede to that."

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