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The following is a detailed description of the various television networks (both broadcast and cable), rights fees, and announcers who have called Major League Baseball games throughout the years (from the late 1930s through the present).
National Television broadcastersEdit
- NBC: 1947-1989; 1994-2000
- ABC: 1953-1965; 1976-1989; 1994-1995
- CBS: 1951; 1955-1965; 1990-1993
- FOX: 1996-present
- ESPN: 1990-present
- USA: 1978-1983
- TBS: 2007-future
- Main article: Baseball Broadcasting Firsts
When the Boston Braves won the National League pennant in 1948 and drew 1.46 million fans, they decided to sell the television rights to all of their home games for the next two years. They also had television coverage for most of their home games through the 1952 season, all for the sum of $40,000. The Braves figured that the televising of home games and fueled interest in the team in the first place. By the time the Braves' television contract ran out, their home attendance had fallen by 81%. Apparently, fans had decided that they preferred to watch the games on television than go to the ballpark. In 1953, when baseball's attendance shrunk to 14 million paying customers, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and refused all offers to televise home games.
Television's sports arrival in the 1950s increased attention and revenue for all major league clubs at first. The television programming was extremely regional. It hurt the minor and independent leagues most. People stayed home to watch Maury Wills rather than catch Joe Nobody at their local baseball park. Major League Baseball, as it always did, made sure that it controlled rights and fees charged for the broadcasts of all games, just as it did on radio. It brought additional revenues and attention both from the broadcast itself, and from the increases in attendance and merchandise sales that expanded audiences allowed.
On January 31, 1953, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox joined forces against St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck. The respective franchises tried to force the Browns to play afternoon games in an attempt to avoid having to share television revenues. A month later, Major League Baseball owners received a warning from Senator Edwin Johnson about nationally televising their games. Johnson's theory was that nationally televising baseball games would be a threat to the survival of minor league baseball. The owners pretty much ignored Johnson since the games on NBC in particular, were gaining a large and loyal following.
By 1964, CBS' Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese worked Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. New York got $550,000 of CBS' $895,000. Six clubs that exclusively played nationally televised games on NBC got $1.2 million.
ABC paid $5.7 million for the rights to the 28 Saturday/holiday Games of the Week. ABC's deal covered all of the teams except the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies (who had their own television deals) and called for two regionalized games on Saturdays, Independence Day, and Labor Day. ABC blacked out the games in the home cities of the clubs playing those games.
By 1969, Major League Baseball had grown to 24 teams and the net local TV revenues had leaped to $20.7 million. This is in sharp contrast to 1950 when local television brought the then 16 Major League clubs a total net income of $2.3 million. You have to take under consideration the fact that changes that occurred to baseball during the 1960s such as expansion franchises and increasing the schedule from 154 games to 162 led to a wider audience for network and local television.
In the aftermath of the thrilling 1975 World Series, attendance figures, television contracts (this time including two networks, NBC and now ABC), and player salaries all spiraled. In the eyes of some, that particular World Series restored baseball as America's national pastime (ahead of football).
- ABC and NBC Alternate Coverage of the All-Star Game, League Championship Series, and World Series: 1976-1989
- Main article: Major League Baseball on Cable Television
On July 17, 1964, a game out of Los Angeles between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers contest became the first Pay TV baseball game. Basically, subscription television offered the cablecast to subscribers for money. The Dodgers beat the Cubs by the score of 3-2, with Don Drysdale collecting 10 strikeouts by the way.
In 1980, 22 teams (all but the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals) took part in a one-year cable deal with UA-Columbia. The deal involved the airing of a Thursday night Game of the Week in markets at least 50 miles (80 km) from a major league park. The deal earned Major League Baseball less than $500,000, but led to a new two-year contract for 40-45 games per season.
On January 5, 1989, Major League Baseball signed a $400 million deal with ESPN, who would show over 175 games in beginning in 1990. For the next four years, ESPN would televise six games a week (Sunday, Wednesday Night Baseball, doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Fridays, plus holidays).
In 1994, ESPN renewed its baseball contract for six years (through the 1999 season). The new deal was worth $42.5 million per year and $255 million overall. The deal was ultimately voided after the 1995 season and ESPN was pretty much forced to restructure their contract.
In 1996, ESPN began a five year contract with Major League Baseball worth $440 million and about $80 million per year. ESPN paid for the rights to a Wednesday doubleheader and the Sunday night Game of the Week, as well as all postseason games not aired on Fox or NBC. Major League Baseball staggered the times of first-round games to provide a full-day feast for viewers: ESPN could air games at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 11 p.m. EDT, with the broadcast networks telecasting the prime time game.
Beginning in 1997, Fox entered a four year joint venture with Liberty Media Cable (which resulted in the placement of a Thursday night baseball game on Fox Sports Net alongside an FX Saturday night game, Fox Family would later replace Fox Sports Net) worth $172 million. The deal called for two games a week that aired games on its choice of two weeknights other than Wednesday, with no exclusivity.
OLN was briefly considering picking up the rights to the Sunday and Wednesday games, which expired after the 2005 season. On September 14, 2005 however, ESPN, then the current rights holder, signed an eight year contract with Major League Baseball, highlighted by the continuation of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball series with additional, exclusive team appearances.
NBC's Game of the WeekEdit
By 1983, Joe Garagiola had stepped aside from the play-by-play duties for Vin Scully while Tony Kubek was paired with Bob Costas on NBC telecasts. The New York Times observed the performance of the team of Scully and Garagiola by saying "The duo of Scully and Garagiola is very good, and often even great, is no longer in dispute." A friend of Garagiola's said "He understood the cash" concerning NBC's 1984-1989 407% MLB hike. At this point the idea was basically summarized as Vin Scully "being the star" whereas, Joe Garagiola was Pegasus or NBC's junior light.
When NBC inked a $550 million contract for six years in the fall of 1982, a return on the investment so to speak demanded Vin Scully to be their star baseball announcer. Vin Scully reportedly made $2 million a year during his time with NBC in the 1980s. NBC Sports head Thomas Watson said about Scully "He is baseball's best announcer. Why shouldn't he be ours?" Dick Enberg, who did the Game of the Week the year prior to Vin Scully's hiring mused "No room for me. Game had enough for two teams a week."
The End of an EraEdit
- Main article: Major League Baseball on NBC
After calling the 1988 World Series with Vin Scully, Joe Garagiola resigned from NBC Sports. NBC was on the verge of losing the television rights to cover Major League Baseball to CBS. Garagiola claimed that NBC left him "twisting" while he was trying to renegotiate his deal.
NBC's final edition of the Game of the Week was televised on October 9, 1989; Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs from Candlestick Park. Vin Scully said "It's a passing of a great American tradition. It is sad. I really and truly feel that. It will leave a vast window, to use a Washington word, where people will not get Major League Baseball and I think that's a tragedy." Scully added that "It's a staple that's gone. I feel for people who come to me and say how they miss it, and I hope me."
Bob Costas said "Who thought baseball'd kill its best way to reach the public? It coulda kept us and CBS-we'd have kept the Game-but it only cared about cash." Costas added that he would rather do a Game of the Week that got a 5 rating than host a Super Bowl. "Whatever else I did, I'd never have left 'Game of the Week'" Costas claimed.
The final regular season edition of NBC's Game of the Week by the way, was televised on September 30, 1989. That game featured the Toronto Blue Jays beating Baltimore Orioles 4-3 to clinch the AL East title from the SkyDome. It was the 981st edition of NBC's Game of the Week overall. Tony Kubek, who teamed with Bob Costas since 1983, said "I can't believe it" when the subject came about NBC losing baseball for the first time since 1947. Coincidently, from 1977-1989, Tony Kubek (in addition to his NBC duties) worked as a commentator for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Monday Night BaseballEdit
- Main article: Monday Night Baseball
On October 19, 1966, NBC signed a three year contract with Major League Baseball. The year before, NBC lost the rights to the Saturday-Sunday Game of the Week. In addition, the previous deal limited CBS to covering only 12 weekends when its new subsidiary, the New York Yankees, played at home.
Under the new deal, NBC paid roughly $6 million per year for the 25 Games of the Week, $6.1 million for the 1967 World Series and 1967 All-Star Game, and $6.5 million for the 1968 World Series and 1968 All-Star Game. This brought the total value of the contract (which included three Monday night telecasts) up to $30.6 million.
From 1972-1975 NBC televised Monday games under a contract worth $72 million. In 1973, NBC extended the Monday night telecasts to from (with a local blackout) to 15 straight. On September 1, 1975, NBC's last Monday Night Baseball game, in which the Montréal Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5.
- Main article: Major League Baseball on ABC#1970s
ABC would pick up the television rights for Monday Night Baseball games in the following year. Just like with Monday Night Football, ABC brought in the concept of the three-man-booth (originally comprised of Bob Prince, Bob Uecker, and Warner Wolf as the primary crew) to their baseball telecasts. Said ABC Sports head Roone Arledge: "It'll take something different for it to work" - i.e. curb viewership yawns and lulls with Uecker as the real difference so Arledge reportedly hoped.
By 1986, ABC only televised 13 Monday Night Baseball games. This was a fairly sharp contrast to the 18 games to that were scheduled in 1978. The Sporting News believed that ABC paid Major League Baseball to not make them televise the regular season. TSN added that the network only wanted the sport for October anyway.
For most of its time on ABC, the Monday night games were held on "dead travel days" when few games were scheduled. The team owners liked that arrangement as the national telecasts didn't compete against their stadium box offices. ABC on the other hand, found the arrangement far more complicated. ABC often had only one or two games to pick from for each telecast from a schedule designed by Major League Baseball. While trying to give all of the teams national exposure, ABC ended up with way too many games between sub .500 clubs from small markets.
In 1989 (the final year of ABC's contract with Major League Baseball), ABC moved the baseball telecasts to Thursday nights in hopes of getting leg up against NBC's Cosby Show. After braving the traumatic Loma Prieta earthquake and an all-time low 16.4 rating for the 1989 World Series Al Michaels took ABC's loss of baseball to CBS as "tough to accept." Michaels added that "baseball was such an early stepchild at ABC and had come such a long way." Gary Thorne, who served as ABC's backup play-by-play announcer in 1989 and was an on-field reporter for the World Series that year, simply laughed while saying "Great reviews, just as ABC baseball ends."
1976-1989: ABC and NBC alternate coverageEdit
Under the initial agreement with ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball (1976-1979), both networks paid $92.8 million. ABC paid $12.5 million per year to show 16 Monday night games in 1976, 18 in the next three years, plus half the postseason (the League Championship Series in even numbered years and World Series in odd numbered years). NBC paid $10.7 million per year to show 25 Saturday Games of the Week and the other half of the postseason (the League Championship Series in odd numbered years and World Series in even numbered years).
Major League Baseball media director John Lazarus said of the new arrangement between NBC and ABC "Ratings couldn't get more from one network so we approached another." NBC's Joe Garagiola wasn't very fond of new broadcasting arragement at first saying "I wished they hadn't got half the package. Still, Game, half of the postseason - we got lots left." By 1980, income from TV accounted for a record 30% of the game's $500 million in revenues.
On April 7, 1983, Major League Baseball, ABC, and NBC agreed to terms of a six year television package worth $1.2 billion. The two networks would continue to alternate coverage of the playoffs (ABC in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years), World Series (ABC would televise the World Series in odd numbered years and NBC in even numbered years), and All-Star Game (ABC would televise the All-Star Game in even numbered years and NBC in odd numbered years) through the 1989 season, with each of the 26 clubs receiving $7 million per year in return (even if no fans showed up). The last package gave each club $1.9 million per year. ABC contributed $575 million for regular season prime time and Sunday afternoons and NBC paid $550 million for thirty Saturday afternoon games.
- 1983 - $20 million in advance from the two networks.
- 1984 - NBC $70 million, ABC $56 million, total $126 million.
- 1985 - NBC $61 million, ABC $75 million, total $136 million.
Note: The networks got $9 million when Major League Baseball expanded the League Championship Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven in 1985.
- 1986 - NBC $75 million, ABC $66 million, total $141 million.
- 1987 - NBC $81 million, ABC $90 million, total $171 million.
- 1988 - NBC $90 million, ABC $96 million, total $186 million.
- 1989 - NBC $106 million, ABC $125 million, total $231 million.
- Main article: Major League Baseball on CBS#1990-1993 version
On December 14, 1988, CBS (under the guidance of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth) paid approximately $1.2 billion (or $1.06 billion according to some sources) for exclusive television rights for over four years (beginning in 1990). CBS paid about $265 million each year for the World Series, League Championship Series, All-Star Game, and the Saturday Game of the Week. It was one of the largest agreements (to date) between the sport of baseball and the business of broadcasting.
The deal with CBS was also suppose to pay each team $10 million a year. A separate deal with cable TV would bring each team an additional $4 million. Each team could also cut its own deal with local TV. For example, the New York Yankees signed with a cable network (MSG) that would pay the team $41 million annually for 12 years. Radio broadcast rights can bring in additional money. Reportedly, after the huge TV contracts with CBS and ESPN were signed, ballclubs spent their excess millions on free agents.
After sustaining huge losses from 1990's abbreviated postseason (which ended with the Cincinnati Reds shockingly sweeping the defending World Champion Oakland Athletics in the World Series), CBS made several notable adjustments for 1991. Regular season telecasts had been reduced to a meager handful. Where as pregame shows during the League Championship Series were entirely eliminated, to minimize the ratings damage.
In the end, CBS wound up losing approximately half a billion dollars from their television contract with Major League Baseball. CBS repeatedly asked Major League Baseball for a rebate, but MLB wasn't willing to do this.
The Baseball Network: 1994-1995Edit
- Main article: The Baseball Network
After the fall-out from CBS' financial problems from their four year long television contract with Major League Baseball, MLB decided to go into the business of producing the telecasts themselves. After a four year hiatus, ABC and NBC returned to Major League Baseball under the umbrella of a revenue sharing venture called The Baseball Network.
Under a six year plan, Major League Baseball was intended to receive 85% of the first $140 million in advertising revenue (or 87.5% of advertising revenues and corporate sponsorship from the games until sales top a specified level), 50% of the next $30 million, and 80% of any additional money. Prior to this, Major League Baseball was projected to take a projected 55% cut in rights fees and receive a typical rights fee from the networks. When compared to the previous TV deal with CBS, The Baseball Network was supposed to bring in 50% less of the broadcasting revenue. The advertisers were reportedly excited about the arrangement with The Baseball Network because the new package included several changes intended to boost ratings, especially among younger viewers.
Arranging broadcasts through The Baseball Network seemed, on the surface, to benefit NBC and ABC since it gave them a monopoly on broadcasting Major League Baseball. It also stood to benefit the networks because they reduced the risk associated with purchasing the broadcast rights outright. NBC and ABC was to create a loss-free environment for the each other.
After NBC's coverage the 1994 All-Star Game was complete, NBC was scheduled to televise six regular season games on Fridays or Saturdays in prime time. The networks had exclusive rights for the 12 regular season dates, in that no regional or national cable service or over-the-air broadcaster may telecast an MLB game on those dates. Baseball Night in America usually aired up to 14 games based on the viewers' region (affiliates chose games of local interest to carry) as opposed to a traditional coast-to-coast format. ABC would then pick up where NBC left off by televising six more regular season games. The regular season games fell under the Baseball Night in America umbrella which premiered on July 16, 1994.
In even numbered years, NBC would have the rights to the All-Star Game and both League Championship Series while ABC would have the World Series and newly created Division Series. In odd numbered years the postseason and All-Star Game television rights were supposed to alternate.
The long term plans for The Baseball Network crumbled when the players went on strike on August 12, 1994 (thus forcing the cancellation of the World Series). In July 1995, ABC and NBC, who wound up having to share the duties of televising the 1995 World Series as a way to recoup (with ABC broadcasting Games 1, 4, and 5 and NBC broadcasting Games 2, 3, and 6), announced that they were opting out of their agreement with Major League Baseball. Both networks figured that as the delayed 1995 baseball season opened without a labor agreement, there was no guarantee against another strike. Others would argue that a primary reason for its failure was its abandoning of localized markets in favor of more lucrative and stable advertising contracts afforded by turning to a national model of broadcasting. Both networks soon publicly vowed to cut all ties with Major League Baseball for the remainder of the 20th Century.
In the end, the venture would lose $95 million in advertising and nearly $500 million in national and local spending.
- Main article: Major League Baseball on FOX
Soon after the Baseball Network fiasco, Major League Baseball made a deal with Fox and NBC on November 7, 1995. Fox paid a fraction less of the amount of money that CBS paid for the Major League Baseball television rights. Unlike The Baseball Network, Fox went back to the tried and true format of televising regular season games (approximately 16 weekly telecasts that normally began on Memorial Day weekend) on Saturday afternoons. Fox did however, continue a format that The Baseball Network started by offering games based purely on a viewer's region. Fox's approach has usually been to offer four regionalized telecasts, with exclusivity from 1-4 p.m. in each time zone. When Fox first got into baseball, it used the motto "Same game, new attitude."
Trouble at NBC: 1996-2000Edit
- Main article: Major_League_Baseball_on_NBC#Trouble_at_NBC:_1996-2000
Despite of the failure of The Baseball Network, NBC decided to stay on with Major League Baseball but on a far more restricted basis. Under the five year deal (from 1996-2000) for a total of approximately $400 million, NBC didn't televise any regular season games. Instead, NBC only handled the All-Star Game, three Division Series games, and the American League Championship Series in even numbered years and the World Series, three Division Series games, and National League Championship Series in odd numbered years.
In 1997, just before the start of NBC's coverage of the World Series, West Coast entertainment division president and former NBC Sports executive producer Don Ohlmeyer came under fire after publicly announcing that he hoped that the World Series would end in a four game sweep. Ohlmeyer believed that baseball now lacked broad audience appeal (especially in the aftermath of the 1994 baseball strike). As opposed to teams from the big three television markets (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) in the country, the 1997 World Series featured match-up of the upstart Florida Marlins (in fairness, the Marlins are located in Miami) and the Cleveland Indians, who made their second World Series appearance in three years. In addition, Ohlmeyer feared that the World Series would disrupt NBC's efforts to attract enough viewers for its new fall roster in order to stay on top of the ratings heap. Ohlmeyer said "If the A&E channel called, I'd take the call."
In 2000, NBC was caught in the dilemma of having to televise a first round playoff game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics over the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore. NBC decided to give its local stations the option of carrying the debate or the baseball game. If the NBC affiliate decided to carry the debate, then local Pax affiliate could carry the game. NBC also placed a crawl at the bottom of the screen to inform viewers that they could see the debate on its sister channel MSNBC. NBC spokeswoman Barbara Levin said "We have a contract with Major League Baseball. The commission was informed well in advance of their selecting the debate dates.
Baseball leaves NBC againEdit
In September 2000, Major League Baseball signed a six year, $2.5 billion contract with Fox to show Saturday baseball, the All-Star Game, selected Division Series games and exclusive coverage of both League Championship Series and the World Series.
Under the previous five year deal with NBC (1996-2000), Fox paid $115 million while NBC only paid $80 million per year. Fox paid about $575 million overall while NBC paid about $400 million overall. The difference between the Fox and the NBC contracts implicitly values Fox's Saturday Game of the Week at less than $90 million for five years. Before NBC officially decided to part ways with Major League Baseball (for the second time in about 12 years) on September 26, 2000, Fox's payment would've been $345 million while NBC would've paid $240 million. Before 1990, NBC had carried Major League Baseball since 1947.
- "We have notified Major League Baseball that we have passed on their offer and we wish them well going forward." - NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer
In 2001, Bob Costas claimed that despite still loving the game, he now felt a certain alienation from the institution. By the time that NBC lost Major League Baseball for the second time in 12 years, the sport endured a strike, realignment, the wild card, and NBC's complete loss of the regular season Game of the Week. When asked about whether or not the fact that NBC no longer had the baseball rights was disappointing, Costas said "I'm a little disappointed to lose baseball, but that's the way the business is. And it's not nearly as disappointing as it was when we lost it at the end of the '80s. Because then it was like baseball was the birthright for NBC. ... (Baseball is) not going to affect any decision that I have in the future." Costas added to his thoughts on NBC's current baseball blackout by saying "It's nowhere near as devastating as a decade ago. Different circumstances, different time."
Fox, TBS, and ESPN Era: 2007- Edit
- Main article: Major League Baseball on TBS
After weeks of speculation and rumors, on July 11, 2006 at the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball and the Fox Broadcasting Company announced a renewal of their current contract through 2013. The contract would continue to give Fox exclusive rights to televise the World Series and the All-Star Game for the duration of the contract. The World Series would begin the Tuesday after the League Championship Series are completed.
Fox would also get exclusive rights to televise the American League Championship Series in odd years beginning in 2007, and exclusive rights to televise the National League Championship Series in even years beginning in 2008. Additionally, Fox would have the option to broadcast its regional Saturday Game of the Week package for up to 26 weeks (up from 18 under the current contract). If Fox chooses to do so, it would essentially cover the entire regular season.
Additionally, Time Warner's TBS will gain rights to a Sunday afternoon Game of the Week beginning in the 2007 season. TBS will be allowed to choose the games that it will carry and may select a single team up to 13 times. TBS also will gain exclusive broadcast rights to the Divisional Series in both leagues, as well as any tiebreakers. (Through the 2006 season, ESPN had national broadcast rights to tiebreakers, and ESPN and Fox shared coverage of the Divisional Series, with ESPN covering the majority of the games.) TBS will also gain the rights to the All-Star Game Selection Show. A report in the Los Angeles Times indicated that TBS could carry possible tiebreaking games in 2006, even though the old contract is still in effect. It was announced on October 17, 2006 that TBS will get exclusive rights to televise the National League Championship Series in odd years beginning in 2007, and exclusive rights to televise the American League Championship Series in even years beginning in 2008. This contract also runs through 2013.
- MLB's Squeeze Play: League Struggles to Renew TV Rights Deals
- Networks May Unite for Baseball Rights
- MLB on TV - DBS Forums
- MLB, FOX reach seven year extension
- Baseball expands TV coverage with FOX, Time Warner contracts
- New MLB Television Pact is All Bad For Fans
- Braves' run on TBS to end in '07
- MLB Looks to Sell a TV Rights Package
- Last piece of MLB's TV puzzle
- New Network TV Pact a Hit
- This Base For Rent: Baseball and TV