Almost a year after Major League Baseball announced its plans for the MLB Network, the league named CBS executive Tony Petitti to run the channel, which is slated to launch on Jan. 1 into nearly 50 million cable and satellite homes. Petitti, introduced on a conference call Thursday as the Network's president and chief executive, is a highly regarded member of CBS Sports and is charged with establishing a channel that will launch to the greatest amount of viewers of any cable network in history. At CBS, Petitti was the No. 2 man in the sports division, reporting directly to Sean McManus, the president of CBS News and Sports. "Tony brings extraordinary experience to this position, having served in the sports broadcasting industry for more than two decades," Commissioner Bud Selig said during the call. "He's a perfect fit for this assignment and I'm personally very pleased to have him on board."
The new unit, established as a wholly separate entity from MLB, is 66.6 percent owned by the league. The remaining shares are held in partnership with Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, Cox and Comcast. The Network is a round-the-clock operation that intends to carry 26 Saturday night regular-season games in its first season. It will also be made available on the basic or digital tier of all of MLB's partner services, rather than the sports tiers, which usually cost extra. "I'm really excited to lead this new effort," Petitti said. "This Network will be a great showcase for Major League Baseball. The launch into this amount of homes is just unprecedented in the history of television. I'm really anxious to get started and build this team and this effort with the cooperation of everybody in baseball." The placement of the MLB Network alone was one of the main negotiating points last year in talks that seemed to end when MLB announced a deal to sell its Extra Innings out-of-market game package to DirecTV. That exclusive deal with the satellite carrier was for four years guaranteed with a three-year option at $700 million. At the time, DirecTV agreed to offer the channel on its basic tier and partner with MLB on the project, an obligation other cable networks didn't want to match. But under pressure from fans and the U.S. Congress, the three cable services took the Extra Innings package and offered to also carry the MLB Network on its basic tier in exchange for a piece of the action. The entirety of the seven-year deal with all the entities is now guaranteed at $80 million a year with an upside potential of MLB earning more each season based on additional sales of the Extra Innings package. Petitti is essentially the first major hire for the network, although Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business operations, has been leading the effort to find temporary studio space and set the network in motion. With only eight months before its projected launch date, Petitti must now attack the job of hiring a staff and developing a 24/7 programming platform. "We're going to need to hit the ground running very quickly," he said. "Obviously we have a January launch. Each area we have to start focusing on, whether it's production, programming, sales, affiliate relations, utilizing what baseball already has in place, and then sort of going from there. It's like any other network. We have to start working on that right away and get these key components in place."
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.