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MLB nears media rights extension with Turner Sports

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during a TBS interview in last year's National League Division Series. Turner is nearing a long-term extension of its MLB rights. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is closing in on a seven-year media rights extension with WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports that would be worth in excess of $3.5bn, according to industry sources.

The forthcoming agreement, said to be worth more than $500m per year, would represent a more than 50 per cent increase over the average of $325m per year Turner currently pays in an eight-year deal expiring after the 2021 season.

The new deal, though not yet signed, is slated to cover the 2022-28 seasons, a time period syncing with a separate, $5.1bn deal MLB signed with Fox Sports agreed to November 2018 that represented a similar 40 per cent increase from that network’s prior baseball rights deal.

The key postseason elements of Turner’s MLB’s will remain intact, as they will keep one Wild Card Game, two Division Series, and one League Championship Series each season, with the rights alternating between games in the American League and National League. The deal will not carry any additional postseason rights, as the components of an expanded playoff format have not been agreed to between MLB and the MLB Players Association, and media rights to those new games will be negotiated separately.

Turner, however, will be shifting its regular-season package as part of this deal from its prior concentration on Sunday afternoons to a weeknight. Those Sunday timeslots have not been exclusive, compete with team’s local broadcasts, and have not been as successful for the network as the postseason inventory. 

MLB is also in talks with ESPN about renewals for the current eight-year, $5.6bn deal that also goes through 2021. It is not known when that agreement will get done, but an increase similar to that of Fox and Turner is likely. ESPN is expected to retain its signature Sunday Night Baseball franchise.

The news of Turner’s impending extension, initially reported by the New York Post, entered into already corrosive MLB labor negotiations, with MLB Players Association executive Tony Clark referring to the forthcoming deal as part of a broader statement on the end of the talks with the league.

“Our response has been consistent that [salary] concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible,” Clark said. “These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights – information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.”