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ESPN shells out $5.6 billion to keep Major League Baseball

ESPN is doubling down on baseball.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned sports cable empire is poised to announce a new eight-year, $5.6-billion deal Tuesday with Major League Baseball that is expected to more than double what it currently pays for games, people with knowledge of the detail said. 

On an annual basis, ESPN will pay $700 million for baseball, compared with $350 million under its current deal, which expires at the end of next season. That agreement includes games on ESPN, radio broadcasts, international rights and some digital rights.

ESPN is also getting back into postseason baseball for the first time in several years as the pact gives it the rights to a wild-card game.

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ESPN, which carries baseball on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, did not want to lose baseball to a rival such as the Comcast-owned NBC Sports Network, which is looking to add more big-ticket programming to boost ratings.

Major League Baseball will also seek new deals with Fox and Turner Broadcasting, its other two national rights holders. Those contracts are also up at the end of the 2013 season and the exclusive negotiating window those networks had have passed.

In other words, NBC still has a shot to snag some baseball.

The ESPN agreement and its terms were first reported by Sports Business Journal.

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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