ESPN could be rewarded with additional playoff games under its new deal with Major League Baseball.
Walt Disney Company and MLB announced a seven-year extension of their rights agreement Thursday. ESPN has aired games since 1990 and the new deal means that will continue until at least 2028.
“This agreement solidifies baseball’s ubiquitous presence across ESPN platforms, including ESPN+. The impactful collection of exclusive content, including ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ which has served as the signature MLB series for more than 30 years, will be amplified by the surrounding rights we have to make these live events even bigger," ESPN Chairman James Pitaro said in a statement.
ESPN will exclusively air 30 regular-season games, with 25 taking place on Sunday nights. The other five will include a broadcast on opening day. ESPN also retains the rights to the Home Run Derby, which takes place the night before the All-Star Game.
The deal also includes the rights to air an expanded wild card round if it comes to fruition during talks between MLB and the Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement. ESPN and ABC aired those games last year when the playoffs were expanded due to the shortened coronavirus season.
If the current wild card format remains, ESPN will continue to have one of the two games as well as receive eight additional regular-season games. There is the possibility the Home Run Derby could be simulcast on ABC, but there are no immediate plans for that to happen.
“Sunday Night Baseball” is up 34% over last season, averaging 1.65 million viewers. The package has had steady audience growth since the start time was moved to 7 p.m.
The agreement also includes the ESPN+ streaming service airing at least one game a day as well as an extension of ESPN Radio's contract, which includes regular-season games, the All-Star Game and the postseason.
ESPN will no longer consistently air games on Monday or Wednesday, but there still will be plenty of baseball on television. Turner will have a game on Tuesday nights starting next season while Fox and FS1 have a Saturday package. ESPN also has a reduced inventory of open broadcast windows starting next spring when it adds the Stanley Cup playoffs as part of its new agreement with the NHL.
The extension also means all of MLB's rights deals with Fox, Turner and ESPN will expire after the 2028 season.
“ESPN has been one of MLB’s longest and most important partners. As the way in which fans consume baseball continues to change, this partnership provides expanded opportunities for fans to engage with our content and we are excited to present those new opportunities,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
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Joe Reedy, The Associated Press