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Daniel G. Habib
January 19, 2004
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January 19, 2004

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Welcome hot-stove news: Major League Baseball is developing a 24-hour-a-day digital cable channel. "We have surveys and data that suggest baseball fans want to watch baseball year-round," says Tim Brosnan, MLB's vice president of business operations, "and that particular fans want to watch it 24 hours a day."

With the channel's launch 12 to 18 months away, many issues remain unsettled, including the key one: Will it carry live big league games? Such content would increase the property's value, but MLB is wary of encroaching on its broadcast partners—Fox, ESPN and Turner. So far, different leagues have handled this question in different ways. Four-year-old NBA TV will air 96 games this season, while the two-month-old NFL Network shows no games. If MLB-TV chooses not to broadcast big league games, the programming could consist of archival footage ( MLB's library is the most extensive in sports), news and analysis shows, youth baseball, and international and winter league games. Since baseball, like the other sports, feels the need to wield control over its product, live MLB games could be part of the channel's future. "We're all big media sellers," Brosnan says. "We're all subject to the vagaries of the market, and we all want to become less so."

Fox has been the primary beneficiary of these nail-biter NFL playoffs. It has aired all three overtime finishes and logged the first, third and fourth-highest ratings of the postseason, capped by the Eagles' 20-17 win over the Packers on Sunday, which drew a 25.3. Said color man Cris Collinsworth after a Philadelphia field goal sent the game into OT, "As [ Eagles owner] Jeffrey Lurie celebrates, so do our executives in L.A." Fox's games have averaged a 21.3, compared with 18.6 for CBS's and 15.9 for ABC's.