July 17, 2006
The Ledger Domain
MLB's 7-Year-Hitch to Fox and the All-Star Game
I never tire of looking at PNC Park.
As I sat watching this year's All-Star Game, wondering if the Nuttings and Kevin McClatchy would ever figure out that they're sitting on one-half of a great baseball club (the stadium), "television" kept coming to mind.
As Trevor Hoffman's pitches hung out there like tasty treats for the likes of Paul Konerko, Troy Glaus, and then Mike Young--whose triple with 2 outs in the 9th was a punch to the throat of the National League--my mind kept coming back to the 7-year network television rights extension that Fox and MLB had announced earlier in the day, and how the All-Star Game ratings might turn out for this year's mid-summer classic.
7 More Years… with a twist - As I mentioned last week in Part II of my series on the upcoming CBA, Fox's deal with MLB was set to expire at the end of the season. Fox wasn't exactly leaping across the table to shake MLB's hand on a new deal, as they were claiming that they had lost $200 million over the course of the 5-year, $2.5 billion agreement that had been in place since 2001. Sports, as a whole, has been reported by the broadcasting industry to be a loss leader. The word from the brass at Fox was, "We're interested, but only if we can make money on the deal."
So, early Tuesday morning, word started coming in of a new MLB network deal. Fox would still be in the mix, but there was a twist: Turner Sports would get a deal as well.
By the time the 1 p.m. press conference at PNC Park had concluded, the 7-year deal that starts in 2007 started to come into focus. The deals between Fox and Turner Sports are shaping up as follows:
What does this all mean?
Well, for one, you're going to get less McCarver, Buck, and Scooter… yippee. Snarking aside, it means that MLB is taking a sheet out of the NBA's playbook.
Currently, the NBA uses TNT for NBA playoff games, with good success.
For MLB, as cable continues its reach into America's homes, the network slice of the television media pie will continue to shrink, while the cable slice will grow. As an example, TBS is currently in 90 million of America's 110 million television homes.
It also means that blackouts will continue.
Due to exclusivity, all games will continue to be blacked out during the nationally televised Saturday afternoon game. This may also be the case when Turner starts showing the Sunday Game of the Week in 2008, but we don't know for certain. With fans already upset about how blackout restrictions impact viewing (if you are caught in the middle of a blackout dilemma, e-mail me at email@example.com for an upcoming article), the possible addition of further blackouts on both Saturdays and Sundays could ramp up complaints by fans to a fever pitch.
It also means that with Fox rolling out fall programming earlier, it doesn't wish to compete with itself in primetime, where Fox has finished # 1 in the ratings with adults 18-35 the past two seasons. Decreasing the number of games shown during the fall lineup reduces interruptions to the entertainment programming of Fox, while still allowing Fox to cross promote with the games it does show.
Bottom line… MLB dodged a bullet. With the season halfway completed and no new deal signed, Fox appeared to be in the driver's seat. Of course, what I haven't mentioned is how the sale of the Braves factors into all of this. MLB has been holding up the sale from Time Warner to Liberty Media. Time Warner is a parent company to TBS. Is it possible that MLB used the sale of the Braves to leverage the deal? One might speculate.
The boob tube and the All-Star Game - With the new network deal being announced earlier in the day on Tuesday, it was time to actually broadcast the game later in the evening on Fox.
Fox has never been shy about using gimmickry in their MLB broadcasts. Some ideas have been good (almost always technical introductions such as the higher quality super slow-mo camera work and lipstick cameras in the in-field), but some have been truly distracting and have weakened the game's appeal.
This year saw interviews with the managers that used to occur in-between innings actually occur while the game was being played. While Buck and Garner droned on in chit-chat, Beltran and Soriano stole bases. Garner had been shown in footage taped in the clubhouse before the game saying that it was going to be the decision of the players whether they stole bases, or decided to hit in certain ball-and-strike situations. Yet here we were listening to Buck and Garner talk about how brilliant Garner looked stealing bases.
Note to Fox: Drop the shtick in the dugout while the game is going on.
The game's Nielsen numbers were up over last year's figures. By how much? Fifteen percent, which was the largest increase in 24 years. This year saw an 8.1 rating with a 14 share (a ratings point represents 1,096,000 households, while a share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show).
Slight problem with these figures, however.
It would have been hard for the game not to have rated better. After all, the All-Star game in Detroit was the lowest rated All-Star game ever. The question is, why the increase in viewership?
Consider… New York, the #1 market in the country, came in at #8 in the Nielsen rankings, posting a 13.3/22 this year compared to a 11.2/18 for last year's game. This is an 18% increase from the year prior. Why the interest? There were 3 Mets starters for the NL (Paul Lo Duca, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran) and 2 Yankee starters (Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez) along with closer Mariano Rivera that increased interest.
Other markets that showed increased interest were Minneapolis-St. Paul at #4 (15th largest television market with a 17.2/31, a 68.6% increase from the year prior), Chicago at #5 (3rd largest television market with a 16.1/25, a 7.3% increase from the year prior), Milwaukee at #7 (33rd largest television market with a 13.9/22, a 40.4% increase from the year prior), and yes, Pittsburgh at #1 (22nd largest television market with a 22.9/34, a whopping 148.9% increase from the year prior).
Pittsburgh's rating was the highest Nielsen metered-market rating for Fox coverage of the MLB All-Star game.
So, to the Nuttings and Mr. McClatchy, I say: imagine what kind of crowds and television audience you might have if you could field a decent team with the Pirates.
Grab the back of the television and feel its power - While one can say that what we viewers are about to embark on is a step up from seeing games on, of all things, the Fox Family Channel as we did a couple of years ago, viewers who don't have access to cable or satellite will no longer be able to see some games.
The flip side is, cable is becoming more of a way of life, and for many, the idea that some aspects of Fox's broadcasting (biggest target: McCarver) won't be on every game in the post season is at least a change. It will be interesting to see how Turner Sports approaches broadcasts.
Major League Baseball continues to see increases in media revenues by extending their association with Fox, while looking to cable sources to make up for the decrease. That has to make the owners happy as the network media revenues are a centralized fund--they are, for the most part, split equally between the 30 owners.
You have to ask yourself if things are going to be better or worse for the viewing public.
It's a mixed bag, to say the least.