ESPN and MLB have entered into a new deal that will carry into the 2021 season. The deal allows for ESPN will televise as many as 101 games this season, including a return to postseason coverage for the first time since Fox took over exclusive rights to the playoffs in 2006. ESPN will televise a Wild-Card game and any tiebreaker games. It can also select up to four late-September “postseason impact games.
Another big move will be the return of taking Baseball Tonight on the road again. The show will be on site out at the ball game for several on-site shows leading into Sunday Night Baseball telecasts. The Baseball Tonight roadshows will air from prime locations near the ballpark, allowing fans to show their team pride at the set and for viewers to experience the atmosphere of Sunday Night Baseball.
Sports Talk Florida talked with ESPN President John Skipper via conference call last week about some of the things fans will see in 2014.
Skipper on what things come with the new deal with MLB:
We could do as many as 101 games this year. This would be our first year in the postseason. We’re excited about getting a wild card this year. We’ll do some play‑in games. We’ve agreed in the new deal for the league to be very flexible about getting games added to the schedule in the last couple of weeks so that fans nationally can see the contenders coming down the home stretch.
I like a lot of the new parts of the new deal. The Commissioner noted the 30 games. We and the league have both talked about making sure that fans get a chance to see every team nationally during the regular season. I think that’s an important new feature. Love the way we’re getting started this season. We’ll be with the Dodgers this Sunday night, five games on Monday, featuring a lot of those new players the Commissioner talked about, Yasiel Puig in the opening game, Mike Trout will be there Monday, and we have the World Champions on Monday. So I think we’ll have a big opener Sunday night and Monday.
We too are excited about getting the pre-game show, Baseball Tonight, back for our Sunday Night Baseball games. The fans at the parks really love to see our set there, and it creates a lot of excitement. Again, it’s part of the new deal that we were able to work out with baseball. They love that feature, and we do, as well.
I think we’re keyed up here for an excellent season. Our ratings were up last year, so I’ll anticipate a question – I bet somebody is teed up to ask us. We were up last year and we feel very good about the prospects with all those young stars, with the parity, showing more teams, with the flexibility in the schedule, our being in the postseason, I think we’re poised to have a really excellent 25th year, and as the Commissioner noted we’ll be celebrating the 25th year. At Disney and ESPN we have a knack for being able to celebrate things for a long time, so we look forward to an excellent year.
Skipper on how the network will handle the new replay rules:
Over the years we have managed replay it in other sports. It’s been a long time. I’m happy it’ll give us the challenge, but we haven’t had many problems with ‘why you don’t have that angle.’ Instant replay tends to highlight just how well we document the game, and people are more often shocked at I can’t believe they have that that well.
And of course with baseball, we have a pretty good track record of having the camera positions and knowing where the plays are going to be. So I would think working together, I don’t anticipate ‑‑ we look forward to it. We’re not worried about the challenge at all.
Skipper on the importance on returning to broadcasting post season baseball:
We’re very excited about that. I mean, postseason, interest in baseball peaks. It’s a wonderful time of year. Again, thanks to our friends at baseball, we’ve been there with news and information. Baseball’s other broadcast partners have been excellent at being flexible, and I think they understand that having SportsCenter at the World Series and having our reporters on the field is excellent for everybody. But there’s nothing like being there and it being your booth and being on your air and that creates a level of excitement. So it was very important for us, and we’re thrilled to have it in the new deal.
We feel the same way about the play‑in games and the pennant chase games. It’s really going to give an air of excitement. You can kind of feel it on the campus here when you’re in the postseason and it’s our game. The level of excitement is very high, so it’s very important to us.