On one of the happiest days of the baseball calendar, Commissioner Bud Selig announced the blockbuster new TV package that was first reported Monday night on MLB.com, calling it "a very happy day for Major League Baseball." The big news is that FOX, which began broadcasting baseball games in 1996, will be the home for the All-Star Game and World Series through 2013. This package also introduces Turner Sports as the new TV home of the Division Series and reconfigures the schedule of MLB's postseason.
"This deal is a great manifestation of how popular the sport is," said Selig, seated at the podium along with executives for FOX and Turner. "We set attendance records each of the last two seasons and believe we will again this season. It has just reinforced baseball's position as the national pastime. As part of this agreement, FOX will maintain exclusive rights to televise baseball games including the All-Star Game and World Series. FOX has been a wonderful partner. They have demonstrated a great commitment to the game and we are delighted to continue our excellent relationship."
Financial details of the agreements were not disclosed.
In addition to every All-Star Game and World Series, the contract extension gives FOX to exclusive rights to the American League Championship Series in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013, and the National League Championship Series in 2008, 2010 and 2012. When asked who will be broadcasting the LCS in those other alternating years, Selig said "there is an enormous amount of interest" among suitors and that Major League Baseball hopes to announce that "in a short period of time."
FOX also will see an increase in the number of Saturday games it may air, from 18 in the previous agreement to 26 under the new agreement.
"FOX has enjoyed 11 terrific years as the broadcast home of Major League Baseball, having covered some of the game's most memorable moments," FOX Networks Group president/CEO Tony Vinciquerra said. "Major League Baseball is as popular today as ever ... with new young stars and veteran players performing before hundreds of millions of fans in-person and on TV each year. The schedule this agreement provides enables FOX to combine the most-watched games of the year with the No. 1 prime-time lineup in America. ... We think it will be an even stronger partnership with Major League Baseball."
One notable aspect of the new TV package is that the World Series schedule will be changed. In recent years it has begun on Saturday nights, but from now on it will start on Tuesdays. Officials said it will mean a larger available audience, and FOX also cited the advantage for its sales force in selling advertising for possible sixth and seventh games of a Fall Classic.
The Turner deal means TBS will air all Division Series games (going to TNT if there is overlap), as well as any regular-season tiebreaker games and the All-Star Selection Show, which had been on ESPN. In addition, beginning in 2008, TBS will televise a select window of MLB games on 26 Sunday afternoons.
"We are also extremely pleased to expand our relationship with Turner Sports, an innovative leader in sports broadcasting," Selig said. "Turner Sports has long been familiar to baseball fans, and we are excited that their coverage will now extend to all clubs in the regular season, particularly on Sunday afternoons and for any potential tiebreaker games that will impact the postseason. Their exclusive coverage of the Division Series will be a fantastic way for baseball fans to begin each October."
Fans will continue to end each October by watching FOX, and the same is true with Midsummer Classics. Another large audience will tune in to FOX to find out if the National League finally will do something about what has become a lopsided run against the vaunted American League. And that audience will be greeted by the familiar faces and voices of Buck and his partner Tim McCarver, who have become synonymous with MLB's jewel events and apparently will be for some time to come.
"If you look at what baseball has done, and how baseball has worked with their broadcasters to create new production opportunities over the last five or 10 years, the baseball telecast has dramatically improved and changed during that time," FOX Sports president Ed Goren said. "Whether it's Diamond Cam, managers being interviewed during the game or players and managers wearing mics, the broadcast has come farther than maybe any other sport. That's a compliment to [MLB executive vice president] Tim Brosnan of the broadcast groups, and to the Commissioner.
"I'm not going in [tonight] with expectations of, 'Wow, this could be the highest-rated.' It's going to be an outstanding rating. And in the end, it's going to be an All-Star Game that more than doubles or triples other [sports'] All-Star Game ratings. It will be in line with what the ratings were for the NBA Finals."
One thing people have counted on with the All-Star Game is the familiar voice and sight of Buck and McCarver. The latter is now about to broadcast his 15th MLB All-Star Game, which is a record. He also has been part of more network World Series broadcasts than anyone else. As for Buck, Goren said: "By the time Joe finishes his career, he'll have the record for play-by-play, too."
As long as the keys to the Porsche are still there.
When Buck started broadcasting MLB games, it was a transition to a new generation because so many people had grown up with the familiar delivery of his father, the late Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck. Joe had been calling Cardinal games with his father for former Cardinals flagship station KMOX, and in addition to his duties as a FOX NFL play-by-play man, he was propelled by the MLB role into another familiar figure.
"The older you get, the more you appreciate this," Joe Buck said. "I did my first one at 28, and I'm 37 now. You start to appreciate doing these more and more. You go from just trying not to mess up and embarrass yourself to enjoying it. The All-Star Game is a celebration of baseball, a fun two days. You get so used to seeing these guys all tense in the clubhouse on a daily basis, with that don't-bother-me look on their faces. It's different in the All-Star Game."
Buck said it also is his trickiest assignment, and McCarver and Goren echoed the sentiment.
"It's the hardest thing to do," Buck said, "because it's more like a TV show with people coming and going. You want to give each player the credit he deserves, but by the time they get to the plate, you haven't had a chance to say anything about them and there may have been a substitution so you can't."
So what is the easiest assignment?
"The easiest is Game 7 of the World Series," he said. "It tells itself. You've just watched the first six games, and so you just sit back and watch it with everybody else."
"You always hear from the broadcasters that the game is the most difficult game to do in the year," Goren said, "because of the multiple changes in players as the game goes on. You're constantly catching up with players coming in and out of the game. And in the past, the game didn't necessarily have a lot of strategy. Not just the baseball All-Star Game, either. You look at NBA, NHL or the NFL's Pro Bowl, and they're basically offensive exhibitions for the other sports. In baseball, it wasn't necessarily an offensive exhibition, but there was certainly very little strategy.
"I think one of the changes we've seen in recent years is with managers keeping some of their star players in longer, which I think has been a bonus for fans. If you can see [David] Ortiz hit once, well, that's not as satisfying watching an All-Star Game and seeing Ortiz hitting three times. You see managers hit-and-run, attempts at steals, sacrifices ... so the game takes on more of the form in recent years of what we know baseball to be. So I think it's become more enjoyable for the fans and broadcasters."
And it will be yet another night to spend with Buck and McCarver in the living room of the average Major League Baseball fan. There is plenty more opportunity for that going forward, now that the new TV deal has been announced.
"I had no idea we'd still be doing this when I started," McCarver said. "My first [World] Series was after [Howard] Cosell was fired. I really replaced him in the All-Star Game. My biggest objective was to get through the World Series. It's more than a job to me. I enjoy it. It's my 47th year in the game.
"Al Michaels taught me more about the TV business than anyone I ever worked with. I had fun with Al. But I don't think I had more fun with anyone than with Joe. He has that sense of humor and uses it deftly. Deftly. You're locked in that booth together for an extended period of time, and I think we've worked very well together."