The Korea Baseball Organization’s preseason is in full swing, with a May 5 start to its regular season (sans fans in attendance) on the calendar. The resumption of play in the KBO has attracted some attention from ESPN, it seems, but Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports that the media powerhouse sought to acquire broadcast rights from Korean media counterpart Eclat free of charge. Unsurprisingly, that was a non-starter in negotiations.
ESPN also floated the proposal of paying Eclat once it had secured a profit from KBO broadcasts, per the Yonhap report, but they’ve only been interested in month-to-month contracts that would allow them to drop KBO programming once MLB and other major domestic sporting entities resume play. According to Yoo, Eclat and the KBO felt “disrespected” by ESPN throughout their talks.
That said, it seems that ESPN isn’t the only foreign broadcast company interested in picking up the rights to KBO play. Daniel Kim of South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) tweets that KBO official Jin Hyung Lee tells him other networks have expressed interest in acquiring KBO television rights — including at least one non-U.S. network. (Kim speculates that Canada would make sense, which indeed seems plausible.) Perhaps, then, it’s possible for North American baseball fans to eventually find themselves with easy access to KBO play in the absence of Major League Baseball.
The Eleven Sports Network in Taiwan has already been streaming some games from the Chinese Professional Baseball League free of charge and with an English commentary team in place (which The Athletic’s Marc Carig recently profiled at length). That’s one option for sports-starved fans around the globe, but it seems Korean-based Eclat is understandably not enamored of taking on increased production costs and giving away its coverage of the larger KBO without compensation. The Korean league is on board with that thinking, as Yoo quotes a KBO official indicating that Eclat shouldn’t have to incur losses simply to air KBO games on ESPN.
The KBO season opener is still 12 days away, and the league is hopeful of being able to play an full 144-game schedule with a dramatic reduction of off-days and a heavy dose of doubleheaders to make up for the month-plus of the season that has already been lost.