MLB and the North American Sports Network (NASN) issued a joint press release on Monday (March 13th) announcing a five year deal that will give NASN “exclusive rights to televise more than 275 games each season, from Spring Training through the post season and World Series.”
Two thoughts will run through the minds of most British fans:
- Wow, lots of baseball!,
- what does this mean for Five’s coverage?
Like a lot of British baseball fans, Five’s coverage played a part in getting me hooked to the sport. Jonny Gould and his various co-presenters over the years (mainly Toddo, JC and Dave) have produced a show that has been both informative and irreverent. They explain what is going on for newcomers, whilst bringing a better insight into the complexities of the game to established fans. And all this while making you laugh.
Despite the great show they put together, baseball has always appeared to lack any high-level support within Five. Losing the Wednesday games last season to a no-mark SKY digital channel was a sad reflection on Five’s commitment to the sport.
In contrast, baseball is clearly seen by NASN as a vital part of their portfolio, not least with their ambitions to market the channel more extensively throughout Europe. Their deal will result in ten games being shown every week, alongside other baseball programming such as This Week in Baseball. NASN is not cheap at £14 per month (with the other SKY/Cable costs on top), even with the rest of the Setanta package included in the price. But all we can ask as viewers is to be given an option to watch the programmes we want to see. Some will be able to make a few economies and sign up. Others will just have to accept that they cannot afford it at present. Either way, having the option to watch this much baseball is a great position to be in. Put it this way, I would sooner have the option of paying for NASN then Five deciding to chuck baseball altogether and being left with nothing.
So, NASN’s deal means lots more baseball for current subscribers. NASN will pick up some of the baseball converts already around, and I’m sure some fans of other American sports might take more of an interest. But will this increased coverage help attract more people to the game? The World Series is the main marque event that has the ability to attract potential new baseball fans and taking it away from terrestrial TV is not going to help. It will certainly seem strange watching the first game of the World Series and not seeing Jonny and Dave in their customary tuxedos! Still, NASN can hardly be blamed for wanting the jewel in baseball’s crown, and when they are showing so much commitment to the sport, MLB no doubt feel that NASN deserve the event.
Whilst this deal is good news for baseball fans in Britain, it will only be effective if baseball retains its place on Five as well. Anybody curious to take a look at baseball needs a way to do so for free. Potential fans will baulk at subscribing to a channel if they are unsure whether they will like what they see. And of course, it is in NASN’s best interests that some baseball remains on terrestrial TV as it will serve as the prefect advert for their channel.
Although the word “exclusive” is used in the press release, it does not say that NASN have exclusive rights to all MLB programming. Five are notoriously bad at releasing information prior to the baseball season. But there are promising signs (e.g. from a few people on the UK MLB supporters forum who have e-mailed Five or the producer Erik) that baseball will be shown on Five once again this season. It looks as though Five have retained the rights to ESPN Sunday Night baseball and that their diminished schedule has not resulted in them giving up on the sport altogether (and they still cover the NFL despite not having the rights to the play-offs for instance).
So, fingers crossed that Jonny and the gang are back for opening night on Sunday April 2nd to see the Indians visit the defending World Series Champion White Sox. Losing play-off baseball will be a big blow to the Five baseball team (and it’s viewers) but at least it is still available to British viewers via NASN or MLB.TV. So long as we still get to enjoy a weekly dose of baseball on Five, this new NASN deal can only be a good thing for British baseball fans.