Major League Baseball and Fox are working on a billion-dollar deal to extend the network’s World Series rights, according to a report from the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand. The current deal runs through 2021 and the league is happy with the relationship, which has put the Fall Classic on Fox since 1996. Joe Buck has been behind the microphone for 20 (NBC had the event in 1997 and 1999) years and will be until 2021 as well. Then the future becomes murkier.
The news delivers a blow to ESPN, which made overt attempts to make itself more attractive for big-time baseball. There was the retooled Sunday Night Booth featuring Alex Rodriguez, the whispers of a revived Baseball Tonight, and a quest to secure a full playoff series instead of the existing one-game wildcard.
This is a personal opinion, but I would wager that it’s widespread. Fox has outdone its competitors in the baseball space so mightily, that it’s hard to imagine the World Series on any other network. Part of that is years and years of learned behavior and familiarity with Buck. But TBS hasn’t come close to bringing the big-game feel to the ALCS or NLCS. That’s not really a slight, but an observation that you need to do something special to supplant the name brand.
ESPN’s splashy new No. 1 booth was interesting to watch in its rookie year. They have great sideline reporting and the stats-oriented broadcast was a revelation. There’s a lot to like there, but there’s never been a World Series on cable. Al Michaels and Keith Jackson called the series on ABC in the late 70s/early 80s, so it’d be interesting to see if Disney would build around that model if given the opportunity.
Of course, it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what Major League Baseball thinks and what the bottom line shows. Marchand reports the new deal will include a substantial increase in price without going to the marketplace. If Buck does decide to step away in a few years, Fox has the option of turning to Joe Davis, who appears to be the logical successor in the booth. And there’s no shortage of options to fill the analyst position, as some believe John Smoltz isn’t exactly the best in-house candidate anyway.