Major League Baseball and Turner Sports announced Thursday morning a seven-year media rights extension that will run through the 2028 season. John Ourand and Eric Prisbell of Sports Business Journal report that the agreement will see Turner Sports pay roughly $535MM annually in the new agreement — a 65 percent increase over their previous deal’s $325MM annual sum. That would bring the total value of the extension to $3.7 billion for Major League Baseball.
It’s the latest wildly lucrative media rights deal for MLB. Less than two years ago, MLB and FOX Sports announced a media rights extension covering the same 2022-28 span that was worth a reported $5.1 billion and a three-year, $300MM streaming deal with DAZN. FOX retained the rights to the World Series under the parameters of that deal.
MLB’s newest windfall comes at a time that owners throughout the league have been hit by revenue losses which spawned outlandish comments on baseball’s lack of profits. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said earlier this summer that the baseball industry “isn’t very profitable, to be quite honest.” It was a borderline farcical comment that prompted many to point out that DeWitt purchased the Cardinals, currently valued at an estimated $2.2 billion, for a reported $150MM a quarter century ago. However, other owners have voiced similarly brazen claims.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, for instance, lamented “biblical” 2020 losses while telling ESPN’s Jesse Rogers: “[Owners] raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend. The league itself does not make a lot of cash.”
Comments along those lines, juxtaposed with multi-billion dollar agreements such as today’s Turner deal and 2018’s FOX extension, only serve to stoke the flames in the ever-growing tension between the MLBPA and MLB’s owners. That tension proved overwhelmingly detrimental earlier this year as the two sides spent months in a quarrel over the economic components of return-to-play proposals — a contentious back-and-forth that did not reflect well on either party.
The distrust between the two sides figures to continue in a unique offseason that many expect to be frustrating for free agents as teams look to recoup lost revenue. And, all of this comes with just over one year remaining on the current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, which expires in December 2021.
Turning to the details of today’s agreement, TBS will continue airing one Wild Card game, two Division Series rounds and one League Championship Series each year. The agreement also introduces a new, season-long Tuesday Night Baseball package beginning in 2022 that will be hosted by Ernie Johnson and feature analysis from Pedro Martinez, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson. There’s also a digital component of the agreement, as one would expect, allowing Turner to grant streaming access via various platforms.
“We’re delighted to extend our long-standing relationship with Major League Baseball and all of the opportunities this agreement offers us as we broaden our coverage of the game across all of our platforms,” said WarnerMedia chairman of news and sports Jeff Zucker.
“This agreement positions both organizations for mutual growth by continuing Postseason coverage on TBS, delivering a new Tuesday night Baseball franchise, and expanding baseball’s presence on Turner Sports’ digital platforms,” Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred added in his own statement.
It’s notable, too, that today’s agreement — like the 2018 FOX deal — is centered around the preexisting 10-team playoff format featuring sudden-death Wild Card games. Commissioner Manfred, meanwhile, has already voiced his hope that this year’s expanded playoff format will stick in the long term. Doing so would seem to create additional opportunity for MLB to sell rights to some of the newly created postseason rounds — be it to Turner Sports, FOX or another major outlet.
Various reports have pegged this year’s expanded postseason format as generating between $200-300MM in additional television revenue for the league. The players need to sign off on permanent postseason expansion, however, which is sure to be a key talking point in the aforementioned wave of collective bargaining talks that looms on the horizon.