Major League Baseball's Not-Ready-For-National-Pastime TV Play

Now Major League Baseball is trying to convince cable operators it needs a network totally devoted to baseball. It might as well be asking cable operators if they want some used batter's box line chalk.

It might be fair enough if the network was going to have games featuring top profile teams such as New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. But no, MLB wants to pawn off such top flight programming as minor league baseball, college baseball, Japanese and Caribbean games. Not to mention "classic" - read old -- MLB games. MLB's logic is that, with rising attendance and fans, the cable channel is warranted.

The real story is that while actual live attendance may be higher, baseball TV ratings 'attendance' is generally down. As a matter of fact, sports ratings are down across the board.

A sports ratings glut has existed for years, driving down all sports advertising rates. Only the Olympics and NASCAR seem to maintain or improve their respective TV ratings over the last several years. Adding more sports channels will only worsen the situation.



What news stories on the subject haven't really said is that NBA TV and the NFL Network, in their current states, are mere promotional channels. When cruising around the dial, you stop, take a look, and leave. You think, "Is there a real basketball game on tonight... on a real cable network?" Then you turn on ESPN, TBS, or ABC.

Reading between the lines, sports leagues are seemingly using these nascent and narrow-targeted channels as possible future leverage against other networks that run major sports - such as CBS, Fox, and ESPN. In the meantime, they can financially maximize library and other programming.

For cable operators, it could be a good move, but only for financial leverage. For years, they have been fighting with the likes of ESPN to hold down its sky-high, $2-plus subscriber fee the network demands.

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