The next television deal Major League Baseball strikes has the potential to radically alter the media landscape.
Depending on how the talks play out, CBS could have baseball for the first time in almost two decades or Fox could acquire rights to even more games and use them to launch a cable sports channel that would look to challenge Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN.
Fox carries regular season baseball as well as a the All-Star game, one of the two league championship series and the World Series. Turner Broadcasting’s TBS also carries regular season baseball, the divisional playoffs and a league championship series. Both the Fox and Turner deals are up at the end of next season and Major League Baseball wants to have a new deal in place before the end of this season.
Major League Baseball is trying to consolidate its postseason games with one rights holder. The catch is that it also wants to ensure that the World Series remains on broadcast television.
That means if TBS lands the package that includes all of the postseason, it will need a broadcast partner for at least the World Series and probably the All-Star game as well. Turner has reached out to CBS about teaming up on baseball. The two are already partners on the NCAA basketball tournament.
But CBS getting back into baseball is a long shot, people close to the situation said. Major League Baseball would want CBS to carry more than just the All-Star and World Series and that’s probably a nonstarter for the Eye network.
A more likely scenario is Fox scoring more postseason baseball and using some of that along with a portion of its regular season games to finally move ahead with its oft-discussed plans to rebrand its extreme sport cable channel Fuel into a broad sports network.
Another wild card in all these situations is how aggressive NBC will be in going after baseball. Not only would NBC like baseball for its low-profile NBC Sports Network, it probably wouldn’t mind having games to put on its broadcast network as well, which is struggling.
The problem for NBC is that it is already committed to professional football on Sunday nights, which would create scheduling conflicts with postseason baseball.
Earlier this week, Major League Baseball wrapped up an eight-year, $5.6-billion deal with ESPN that included additional regular season games and one playoff game.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.