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ESPN ‘seeks free broadcast rights’ to Korean baseball

Chung Soo-bin of Doosan Bears bats during the preseason game between LG Twins and Doosan Bears (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

ESPN’s plans to acquire rights to the Korean Baseball Organisation’s domestic league are reported to have stalled after the US-based sports broadcaster is said to have attempted to acquire the rights free of charge from international rights-holder Eclat.

ESPN has been holding discussions on broadcasting KBO games after the Major League Baseball season, which was due to begin on March 26, was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving a dearth of live professional baseball to broadcast in the US.

According to sources speaking to the Yonhap News Agency, numerous issues regarding the broadcast of the games have arisen between Eclat and ESPN. These are said to include who should cover the cost of producing a live feed for an ESPN broadcast to US audiences.

Another problem appears to involve the length of the contract. It is reported that ESPN first offered to air the games on a month-by-month basis, rather than show the whole season. This would give the broadcaster more flexibility for when the time came for MLB to begin its season.

Another source said that ESPN originally said it would pay for the games it aired if sufficient advertising and corporate sponsorship revenue was made.

A KBO official cited by Yonhap said that, while it would be “a positive development” for the games to be aired in the US, “we don’t want our rights-holder to suffer losses just to put games on ESPN. If ESPN thinks Korean baseball isn’t worth any money, then there can’t be any negotiations.”

The KBO announced on Tuesday that its season will begin on May 5.

In March, The KBO launched a tender for the distribution of its media rights in territories outside Korea, covering the 2020 to 2023 seasons. Bids for the international media rights had to be submitted by March 19. Baseball is the country’s most popular national sports property, and in February the KBO agreed a record domestic media-rights deal.

Earlier this month, Taiwan’s baseball league started, with broadcaster Eleven Sports reporting huge audiences tuning in to watch the matches.