Baseball’s national television package became as uncertain as its labor situation Thursday when ABC and NBC decided to quit the sport after this season.
The two networks, partners with owners in The Baseball Network, decided to pull out of the joint venture when acting Commissioner Bud Selig refused to make a decision on renewing it for 1996.
The joint partnership, which began with the 1994 season, will terminate after this year’s World Series. If ABC and NBC don’t bid on baseball’s rights for next season, owners probably will try to sell the rights to CBS or Fox.
Rich Levin, the spokesman for the ruling executive council, confirmed Thursday night the networks had told baseball officials they were terminating the deal.
“It wouldn’t come as a surprise,” TBN President Ken Schanzer said. “ABC and NBC made clear over the past several weeks what their position was. I’m saddened by it. It would be the end of a terrific enterprise.”
Baseball’s $255-million, six-year contract with ESPN isn’t affected by Thursday’s decision.
Several large-market clubs had been pushing to terminate TBN, thinking baseball could get more by selling its rights to a network or networks in a traditional deal. Under TBN, the networks got the sport with no risk of a loss.
ABC and NBC have been pressing over the past few weeks to renew the deal, which began last year after the expiration of the $1.057-billion, four-year contract with CBS. The agreement would have renewed automatically if revenue for the first two seasons reached $330 million, but a strike caused the cancellation of the World Series last year and gave all three partners the option of pulling out.
The renewal period for TBN begins Aug. 15 and baseball officials, still uncertain about their labor situation, have been unwilling to give ABC and NBC an answer.