On Tuesday, Fox Sports Media Group announced the creation of a new multi-sports cable network with programming beginning on August 17. The new network — named Fox Sports 1 — is a re-branding of the Fox-owned Speed Network. Speed is already in 90 million homes through myriad cable and satellite operators, so Fox Sports 1 will launch with a substantial potential audience. Industry experts are calling it the biggest challenge yet to ESPN’s sports-programming dominance.
Starting in 2014, much of Fox’s baseball programming will shift from the network TV channel to Fox Sports 1. Under the new national TV contracts MLB signed with Fox Sports, ESPN and TBS last summer, Fox will get a bigger piece of the baseball-on-TV pie. And that bigger piece will no longer be available for free.
The new Fox-MLB national TV contracts covers the 2014 through 2021 seasons. For the tidy sum of $500 million per year, Fox will broadcast the World Series, one League Championship Series, two Division Series, the All-Star Game, 52 Saturday afternoon and evening games and up to 40 additional games throughout the season. The other League Championship Series and two Division Series will be broadcast by TBS. With the launch of Fox Sports 1, many of these games will move from network TV to the new cable channel.
For their Saturday Game of the Week, Fox will air a double-header, with one game on the network and the other one on Fox Sports 1. If you don’t subscribe to cable or satellite, but you do subscribe to MLB.tv, the news here isn’t all bad: Fox agreed to lift its national TV blackouts for the Game of the Week. Starting in 2014, fans will be able to watch any Saturday out-of-market game on MLB.tv (or Extra Innings on cable). For example, if you’re a Red Sox fan living in Los Angeles, and the Fox/Fox Sports 1 Game of the Week in LA is the Dodgers versus the Mets, you’ll be able to watch the Red Sox game on MLB.tv or Extra Innings.
If you are a cable or satellite subscriber with access to Fox Sports 1, you’ll get up to 40 additional games each season. Fox is likely to pull these games from one of its Fox SportsNet affiliates and from the Yankees’ YES Network. Remember that News Corporation — Fox’s parent company — purchased a 49% stake in YES last November, with the option to increase its stake to 80% in the next five years.
The biggest changes will come in the postseason. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast both Divisions Series and the League Championship Series granted to Fox under the new national TV contract. With the other two Division Series and one League Championship Series on TBS, the only postseason baseball games on network TV will be the World Series. SBNation’s sports media reporter Steve Lepore summed it up in this tweet:
Starting in 2014, MLB will have fewer playoff games on network TV than both the NBA and NHL.
— Steve Lepore (@stevelepore) March 6, 2013
That’s a big change for the sport commonly referred to as the “national pastime.”
Baseball fans who want to watch televised games will be dishing out more money to do so. The Los Angeles Times reported that 50% of all pay-TV programming is sports-related. And that programming — whether it’s on the national or the local level — is ever more expensive. In baseball, we’ve seen new billion-dollar local TV contracts for the Rangers, Angels, Padres, Astros and Dodgers just in the past few years. The new national TV contracts with Fox, ESPN and TBS will pay MLB $13 billion from 2014 through 2021. The costs for cable and satellite operators are rising so fast that one company — DirecTV — has begun charging a sports surcharge to all subscribers. The other operators likely aren’t far behind.
So save those pennies, baseball fans. And those nickels, dimes, quarters and silver dollars. Beginning next year, you’ll need them if you want to watch national baseball broadcasts.