Fox re-ups rights deal with Major League Baseball

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The Boston Red Sox vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, Game Five of the World Series, October 28, 2018.
The Boston Red Sox vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, Game Five of the World Series, October 28, 2018. Credit: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Fox Sports and Major League Baseball on Thursday announced that they have come to terms on a renewal that will secure the Fox broadcast network as the home of the World Series through 2028.

Under terms of the new deal, Fox will continue to host baseball's tentpole events, including the July All-Star Game, two Division Series, one of the two October League Championship Series and the Fall Classic.

Under the terms of the current deal, which expires at the end of the 2021 MLB season, Fox pays an average rights fee of around $525 million per year. That effectively doubled the price Fox shelled out for its previous MLB deal, which ran from 2007-2013 at $257.1 million per year.

Fox was mum on how much the new rights deal would cost, but word around the campfire eyeballs the rate increase at 30 percent or higher, which would put the annual fee at $700 million, for an eight-year total of $5.6 billion. Again, these are educated projections rather than official figures.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Fox Sports will continue to air 52 Saturday regular-season broadcast windows, while maintaining the MLB's Spanish-language rights through Fox Deportes. Once the new deal goes live in spring 2022, Fox will be granted an undisclosed boost in regular-season and postseason games.

That Fox was quick to nail down its MLB renewal comes as little surprise, given the network's shift toward a programming model that will lean even more heavily on sports and other live events. In the fall, when the MLB postseason is in full swing and football is scaring up TV's biggest audiences, sports accounts for north of 70 percent of Fox's overall gross ratings points.

The renewal comes just weeks after Fox's new "Thursday Night Football" rights package activated on Sept. 27. Through the first seven broadcasts, the new-look "TNF" is averaging 12.8 million viewers and a 7.8 household rating, and while that marks an 8 percent decline from the comparable CBS/NBC games in 2017, those deliveries still dwarf everything else on broadcast TV other than NBC's "Sunday Night Football."

The new deal also slams the door on any loose talk that a Google or Facebook would muscle in on this particular sports-rights package, inasmuch as the 2022-2028 pact provides Fox with beefed-up streaming, social media and highlight rights.

While there's been no movement on baseball's other rights deals (the league's other TV partners are ESPN and Turner Sports' TBS), talks between the MLB and its legacy partners are active. TBS airs one Wild Card Game, two Division Series and a League Championship Series. This fall, TBS got the American League end of the playoff stick, which manifested in the first Yankees-Red Sox playoff showdown since the epochal 2004 ALCS.

Fox has been an MLB TV partner since 1996. In 2016, its coverage of the historic seven-game title tilt between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most-watched World Series since Boston dispelled its own curse 12 years earlier. The deciding game averaged a staggering 40 million viewers on Fox, making it the highest-rated MLB broadcast in a quarter-century.

"Since we began our historic partnership with Major League Baseball more than 20 years ago, MLB games on Fox have provided some of the most iconic moments in American sports," said Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, in a statement. "This significant multi-year agreement not only cements Fox's role as Major League Baseball's number-one broadcast partner, it ensures that FOX will remain America's leader in live sports well into the future."

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