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ESPN to air Korean baseball for US audiences

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

Live baseball is returning to US audiences following the completion of a new media rights deal between ESPN and the Eclat Media Group for rights to South Korea’s KBO League. 

The new agreement, following weeks of negotiations, will see ESPN become the KBO League’s official English-language home for live games and highlights for the 2020 season. Coverage will start May 5 with Opening Day coverage between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions, and continue with one live game each day of the week except for Mondays. Game commentary will be handled remotely by ESPN commentators Karl Ravech, Jon Sciambi, Eduardo Perez, Jessica Mendoza, and Kyle Peterson.

Games will be generally shown on ESPN2 and the ESPN App, though the Opening Day coverage will be on ESPN. 

“We have a longstanding history of documenting the game of baseball and we’re excited to deliver these live events to sports fans,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming.

Though the KBO League games will be typically played in the overnight and early-morning hours for US audiences due to time-zone differences, the arrival of KBO League play will still likely be a boon for competition-starved American sports fans. Major League Baseball, like most other US sports properties, has been on hold since mid-March due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But South Korea’s more advanced progress in managing the public health crisis has allowed the country to restart sports competitions, though the KBO League will be playing without attending fans.

The KBO League is starting 2020 play six weeks later than expected, but it is still aiming to get in its full 144-game season, and MLB is watching the property’s resumption progress closely.

The game coverage on ESPN will also help the network given that, like other sports programmers and cable and satellite TV distributors, it is increasingly under pressure by regulators and consumer watchdogs due to the current dearth of live events.

Financial terms were for the KBO League agreement not disclosed. ESPN originally was reported in Asian media to be seeking the rights from Eclat, the KBO League’s international rights-holder, free of charge.

“During this unprecedented and difficult time, I hope the KBO League can bring consolation to the communities and provide guidelines to the world of sports,” said Un-Chan Chung, Korea Baseball Organization commissioner. “I am pleased that the KBO League can be introduced globally and hope this can be an opportunity for the development of our league and the sport.”