Last December, ESPN (NYSE: DIS) exercised an opt-out clause in its seven-year digital rights contract with Major League Baseball Advanced Media. Today, the two announced a new deal that runs through 2013 — and, in a first for Major League Baseball, allows live streaming of games. ESPN now has matching digital rights to most of its TV events with one notable exception: the National Football League. I spoke by phone separately with ESPN’s John Skipper (pictured, left) and MLBAM’s Bob Bowman (pictured, right) about the agreement, how it came about and what it means for both.
Why change?: Skipper explained that a lot of the earlier deal was structured around Mobile ESPN because “we needed extensive rights to do our own phone.” Without the MVNO, it made sense to reexamine the rights. “When we opted out, we told major league baseball it was not a negotiating tactic. We need a new deal.” They kept the previous deal in place. (Unlike most leagues, the digital rights are held by MLBAM and so separate deals are needed for digital and TV.) “Baseball is really, really important digital content because of the volume of games and the time of year they play.” Bowman: “If they have the rights in a country, they have the rights to stream.” The deal does not include Korea, Japan, China and other countries covered under a different agreement with ESPN Star.
Lots more after the jump
A first for baseball: Bowman: “This is the first time we