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Cable Deal Rejection is Bad News for MLB Fans

Spurned cable deal keeps DirecTV in the lead for exclusive for out-of-market games package.

If, like me, you are a fan of the National Pastime, then this weeks news that Major League Baseball had spurned a revised offer by leading cable operators to retain the Extra Innings package is a major disappointment.

If the rejection holds up over the next couple weeks, then baseball fans who want to pay a premium to watch out-of-market MLB games will have to subscribe to DirecTV for the priviledge. As a Yankees fan living in New York City its not yet a big issue for me (I can watch my team’s games live on my Time Warner Cable system for no premium), but when I move out of the New York market later this summer, I may have to look to a DirecTV contract for my fix.

For a little background, essentially DirecTV was headed to a deal with MLB earlier in the year that would have given the satellite provider exclusive rights to the out-of-market baseball games. When cable customers who watch out-of-market games voiced their outrage, baseball was prompted to give DirecTV’s rival Dish and a cable consortium called InDemand–owned by Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox–23 days to make a deal. (Dish is still in talks with MLB).

According to a New York Times article, MLBs president Bob DuPuy rejected the consortiums offer, saying that it falls short in nearly all of the material conditions laid out in baseballs deal with DirecTV. Apparently the major missing ingredient was a guarantee that the MLB Channel (which is to make its debut in 2009) would be made available to 80 percent of all the cable systems digital customers. Those were the terms of the deal with DirecTV, which as a satellite network is all digital. Cable operators have about 32 million digital customers in total.

In response to the rejection, Robert D. Jacobson, the president of InDemand, said that MLB has proven that it never intended for InDemand to have a fair and equal opportunity to bid for Extra Innings.

Next up, MLB and DirecTV officials are scheduled to testify next Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee about their seven-year, $700 million agreement. March 31 is the deadline for cable and the Dish Network to meet baseballs terms.