Major League Baseball and DirecTV reached agreement on Thursday to extend their contract for fans to subscribe to out-of-market Major League games for seven years and partner on a Baseball Channel to be offered as part of the carrier's basic package, that channel to be launched beginning in 2009. The deal has a window until the opening of the regular season for other providers like In Demand and DISH Network to match DirecTV's offer "at consistent rates and carriage requirements" to also continue offering MLB's Extra Innings package for the next seven years. In Demand and DISH have been a provider of the package in the past. That means the other providers must match the non-exclusive rate DirecTV is paying MLB for the package, plus offer the new MLB Channel as part of their basic packages, said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, during a conference call on Thursday announcing the deal.
"We picked a reasonable amount of time for a decision to be made," DuPuy said. "At the same time, we wanted a fair amount of time so DirecTV would not be handicapped. The Baseball Channel is all part of it. I hope that those fans who have directed their concerns to us over the last several weeks will encourage their cable carriers to now, in fact, enlist in this package." In the event the other providers do not match, DirecTV will have an exclusive deal for seven years to broadcast by subscription the Extra Innings package and the Baseball Channel as part of its basic package. The contract has been reported to pay MLB $700 million. Chase Carey, president and chief executive of DirecTV, declined to confirm that figure. Carey did say that the total value of the payment to MLB would decrease if other providers matched and the deal became non-exclusive. "It works for us on either front," he said. "You're asking what would I prefer between the two? Exclusivity would probably have been the preferred path. But we've reached an accommodation that would work either way for us." The announcement came after months of negotiations and continues MLB's recent trend of extending broadcast deals well into the next decade. DuPuy was careful to mention that the new agreement with DirecTV would have no impact on its current broadcast partners, including MLB.com, which offers a subscription package of out-of-market games to its customers via the Internet. "There will be no impact on FOX, TBS and ESPN for the televising of games or products available on MLB.com," DuPuy said. "All of that will continue unimpeded." The DirecTV deal has been approved by MLB's executive council, DuPuy said, but is still subject to the collective approval of the owners, who meet again as a group in New York this coming May.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.