Major League Baseball owners last week authorized a 24-hour baseball channel for cable and satellite distribution to deliver game highlights, baseball trivia, interviews and possibly classic and pre-season game coverage to fans as early as next year.
The venture can be seen as part of a wider push by MLB to use television and technology to broaden the appeal and reach of the game. Other recent efforts include the successful and growing MLB.com Web site with extensive streaming video support and several experiments in the way games are produced for television to attract and hold a younger audience.
The Baseball Channel will join the ranks of other league-sponsored networks like NBA TV and the NFL Network. Like those ventures, the Baseball Channel is expected to offer programming that complements, but does not cannibalize the presentation of games by rights holders, such as FOX, ESPN and Turner. Spring training games, news and analysis are likely programming options for the channel. At this point, the inclusion of live reports from regular-season games in the channel’s lineup is unclear.
The Baseball Channel plans to draw on the resources of MLB.com to flesh out its program offerings. The content-rich Web site already has laid the foundation upon which television programming could be built.
But launching the new channel won’t be cheap. According to an article in The Washington Times, the cost of starting the Baseball Channel “will extend deep into eight figures.”
Regardless, the ability of league-sponsored channels to cement the relationship of fans with the sport and buttress existing league branding efforts made the cost of the startup a risk team owners were willing to take.
No hard launch date has been set for the Baseball Channel, but reports indicate it could be as soon as fall 2005.