The MLB wild card games are a hot commodity this offseason, with as many as four networks vying for the rights to air the two quasi play-in games that take place on Friday, October 5th according to Sports Business Daily. Initially, Turner thought it possessed the rights to air the games since it had aired game 163 playoff games in prior years, but the MLB decided that these games were different, and required a new contract. MLB and Turner had an exclusive negotiating window that closed last week, and there was nary a mention of a deal between the two outlets, which makes me think that the two games are still up for grabs among the networks.
Your four contenders for the games are....
ESPN. Currently airs games nationally on both Wednesday and Sunday nights, with the Sunday game holding an exclusive national blackout window.
FOX. Currently airs games nationally on Saturdays, with an exclusive blackout window. FOX also airs playoff games, possessing half of the LCS games, as well as the entire World Series.
Turner. Currenly airs games nationally on Sunday afternoons, with no national blackout window. Turner also airs the LDS and the other half of LCS games not aired on FOX.
MLB Network. Currently airs games simulcast from other stations on various days, with no blackout window. Also airs a Thursday game of the week with its own broadcast crew.
Looking at each network, there are benefits and flaws to each one. Here are the outlines for each network's pros and cons for airing the games.
Pros: has a massive distribution network, including multiple over the air stations and a huge streaming service online. Has oodles of broadcasters experienced with baseball, including their Sunday Night Baseball crew of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, and Terry Francona.
Cons: typically airs college football on Friday nights in the fall, and it's unsure whether or not ESPN would be willing to dump the game onto a lesser channel. Because of its highly rated "men screaming at each other" shows in the late afternoon, it's unsure whether or not ESPN would be willing to move them to another network (or postpone them for the day altogether) to make room for upwards of six hours of baseball.
Pros: experienced with baseball with its years of coverage for both the playoffs and weekly coverage. Has many versatile studio hosts and analysts that can create a nice pregame show.
Cons: doesn't have a distribution network as wide as ESPN, and it's likely that overflow coverage would be put on FX, which aside from airing UFC since January, isn't really a haven for sports fans.
Pros: MLB's preferred partner after airing game 163 the past few seasons. Experienced MLB coverage that hasn't gotten overplayed like the FOX and ESPN crews due to fans' relative inexperience with the crew.
Cons: couldn't get a deal done during the negotiating windows, and might not want it enough.
Pros: in-house productions with low costs that would already be covering the games with studio shows. Probably has the best analysts and commentators in the game, thanks to their exclusive, year-round coverage of the sport.
Cons: revenue from putting the games on their own network would be much lower than if the rights were sold to another.
One major reason why the MLB Network is my favorite to win the rights is distribution. The channel currently has a distribution of 68 million homes, and is looking to get up to 90 million. By placing the wild card games on their own network, MLB Network could begin an advertising campaign along the lines of "if you don't have this channel, you're not going to see every playoff game." This would likely lead to more fans demanding that their cable providers carry the network, and not only would distribution increase, but subscriptions would increase as well.
While putting the games on MLB Network would hurt the network's revenues in the short run, it would probably benefit them a lot more in the long run.
[h/t: Sports Business Daily]