SINCE ITS debut
in 1996, the major league baseball Extra Innings package has been a godsend for
fans with loose definitions of hometown team. For a $179 fee, viewers could get
out-of-market regular-season games from their cable or satellite provider.
Marlins fans based in Seattle (both of them!) could follow their team as
closely as if they lived in South Florida.
500,000 Extra Innings subscribers in 2006, and rights fees from cable and
satellite companies put $40 million million in Major League Baseball's coffers.
That number is about to grow—even as Extra Innings gets harder for many fans to
find. Baseball is pursuing a deal that would make DirecTV the exclusive
provider of its out-of-market package for the next seven years. The satellite
provider would pay $700 million for the rights; MLB reportedly turned down a
$70 million per year offer from a consortium of cable providers. (Time Warner
Cable, a division of SI's parent company, Time Warner, is part of the
Neither MLB nor
DirecTV would comment, but the satellite jump appears driven by MLB's desire
for a 24/7 channel. Cable companies reportedly refused to include one in their
basic services—a promise DirecTV is more than willing to make. (The Baseball
Network would debut on the service in 2009.) MLB may also be trying to steer
viewers toward its website, where, for $89.95 a year, fans can watch
out-of-market games on MLB.TV. Last year the service had 300,000 subscribers,
and some in the industry think baseball is planning to take MLB Advanced Media,
its online operation, public. Says Ben Silverman, an editor at the investment
service site findprofit.com, "Investment bankers say [an IPO] could be
successful, given the amount of business and the MLB brand attached."
The proposed deal
has infuriated fans who don't have DirecTV. Among them is a prominent Red Sox
supporter: Massachusetts senator John Kerry (left), who last week persuaded the
FCC to look into the deal. Kerry is adamant that the arrangement will leave
fans "screwed," with fewer choices and higher prices. "I share your
concerns," said FCC chairman Kevin Martin in a letter to Kerry. "I am
concerned whenever consumers cannot purchase the programming they want or are
forced to purchase programming they don't want."