ESPN Reaches $5.6 Billion Deal to Expand MLB Coverage

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN reached a new eight-year deal with Major League Baseball, extending the cable network’s rights to more games, studio programming and online coverage through 2021.

The network will spend $5.6 billion, about double what it currently pays baseball for domestic and international TV rights, digital programming and radio coverage, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

ESPN, the dominant sports channel, extended its commitment to baseball as it confronts stepped-up competition from NBC and CBS cable networks and a potential new entrant from Fox. As media companies bid up the price of TV rights, cable carriers have resisted absorbing the added costs, leading to contract disputes and blackouts.

“The enormous scope of what we acquired will provide fans with more live baseball and more ways to access baseball content than ever before,” John Skipper, ESPN’s president, said in the statement.

Under the accord, the Bristol, Connecticut-based sports cable network will gain rights to 10 additional regular season games and more footage highlights for use in multiple media, the league and ESPN said today in a statement. The network will also face fewer blackouts where local channels also have rights.

Wild-Card Game

The deal, starting in 2014, also gives ESPN rights to one annual wild-card game, a playoff match-up that baseball added this year, and any tiebreakers that may occur.

Sports Business Daily reported the agreement earlier today.

Disney, based in Burbank, California, closed unchanged at $49.63 in New York. Shares of the world’s largest entertainment company have gained 32 percent this year. Disney ranks fifth in year-to-date return in the S&P 500 Media Index.

Television networks, led by ESPN, are Disney’s biggest and most profitable business, contributing 46 percent of revenue last quarter and 66 percent of operating income, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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