We talked about lucrative local TV rights yesterday. Let’s talk national: ESPN just agreed to pay Major League Baseball nearly double what it’s paying now to keep baseball rights through 2021:
ESPN has agreed to a deal that locks down MLB rights into the next decade, according to several sources. The eight-year deal is worth $5.6B (an average of $700M per year), approximately doubling the nearly $306M ESPN currently pays MLB every year for domestic TV rights.
That includes digital, radio and, for the first time, the playoffs: one wild card game. Otherwise the deal is basically the same: Sunday Night Baseball and Monday and Wednesday night games.
The current deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS are in place through the end of the 2013 season. As the New York Times reported in July, there is a frenzy afoot, with those three outlets still wanting to keep their games, plus NBC wanting to get in on the action. Clearly those remaining will be in frenzied bidding for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon games, the postseason and any other national products that may be added over and above what exists now.
That’s a recipe for skyrocketing rights fees. And we just saw the first rocket launched.
UPDATE: Putting this money in perspective. Short version: windfall.
The Astros and Nationals share a spring training facility, so it was only natural that they would open Grapefruit League play together. The Astros were the home team. Here’s the lineup they rolled out.
Teams typically include at least a few regulars in their spring training lineups as a courtesy to the fans, who are spending money to see big league players play baseball. This is especially the case for home games. However, the Astros have decided to roll out a lineup with a combined 323 MLB plate appearances.
There might be a reason for that. Houston was lustily booed as they took the field. This was after running a video on the scoreboard celebrating their 2019 AL championship.
That’s all with the team that beat them in the World Series (and is widely regarded as baseball’s current heroes for beating the big bad cheating Astros) in the other dugout, of course. Nationals starter Max Scherzer has not thrown at any Houston player, and the game is now in a rain delay. But it seems like the Astros decided to spare their players from some possible rough treatment, both from fans and opposing pitchers.
The same could not be said for Astros mascot Orbit, who was also booed.
One can quibble with the merits of booing a bunch of players who have barely touched the big leagues because you’re mad at Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but sports fandom is something of an irrational business. Fans are going to want their pound of flesh, especially when they paid for the right to be in the ballpark and give the Astros a piece of their mind. Some of them even brought props! This is just how it all works, unfortunately. If you’re in an Astros uniform, you’re probably going to get booed.
Welcome to the 2020 season, Astros. It’s probably going to be like this all year.