Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network, which didn’t have a sports division until it acquired NFL football in December 1993, has acquired another major sports property.
Major league baseball will announce today a new five-year television contract in which Fox will televise up to 18 Saturday regular-season games, the World Series in 1996, ’98 and 2000, the All-Star games in 1997 and ’99, and each year will share in the first two rounds of playoffs.
NBC, according to sources, will televise the All-Star games in the even-numbered years during the contract and the World Series during the odd-numbered years and will also be involved in the playoffs but will not show any regular-season games.
Fox will pay $575 million over the five years, NBC $400 million.
NBC, sources said, will sell part of its rights to the first round of playoff games to ESPN.
What this means is that Fox, NBC and ESPN will televise divisional playoff games, which will have staggered starts, then Fox and NBC will share games during the second round, the league championship series. Those games will also have staggered starts.
Fox, according to sources, has also made a deal that includes its new cable partner, Liberty Sports. That deal will put national games on Fox’s cable network, fX, as well as Liberty’s Prime Sports regional networks, beginning in 1997.
Fox recently merged with Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), of which Liberty Sports is a division.
ESPN’s current contract with baseball runs through 1997, so the Fox-Liberty deal and ESPN’s will overlap during the ’97 season. That will mean four nights of national telecasts on cable. ESPN’s nights are Wednesday and Sunday. The Fox-Liberty nights will vary.
ESPN tried to extend its current regular-season contract with baseball but was turned down.
“They tried to play hardball,” said a source, “and baseball didn’t go for it.”
Fox’s involvement with baseball has been widely speculated for several weeks. But NBC’s, which first came to light late last week, comes as quite a surprise.
In June, when ABC and NBC said they would pull out of their partnership with baseball and the Baseball Network at the end of the season, Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC, angrily said, “I can’t imagine being involved in baseball at least the rest of this century.”
NBC had been a part of baseball for decades until 1990, when CBS took over with a $1.057-billion, four-year deal.
After CBS lost about $500 million over the four years, baseball owners came up with the Baseball Network concept in which revenue was shared by ABC, NBC and baseball.
But national broadcasting revenue declined from $15 million per club in 1993, the last season of the CBS deal, to between $6 million and $7 million this year.
It is believed the money from national broadcasting next season will be approximately $115 million from Fox, $80 million from NBC and $43 million from ESPN for a total of $238 million, or $8.5 million per club.
When the Liberty-Fox cable deal goes into effect in 1997, that will mean an additional $47 million per year, increasing the per-team take to about $10.1 million.