Kerry presses MLB to hold off on DirecTV deal
Posted: 2 hours ago
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. John Kerry urged baseball to hold off on a deal to put the sport's "Extra Innings" package of out-of-market games exclusively on DirecTV, but the sport's No. 2 official wouldn't make a commitment.
The Massachusetts Democrat made the push at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing he chaired Tuesday in an effort to keep the games on cable TV and EchoStar's Dish Network.
The dispute revolves largely over how many homes will receive baseball's new television network in 2009, with DirecTV agreeing to carry it on a basic tier available to about 15 million homes. The company also would own 20 percent of the channel.
In Demand president Rob Jacobson, whose company is owned by affiliates of the companies that own Time Warner, Comcast and Cox cable systems, offered to carry the package on the same terms that DirecTV is for the next two seasons while putting off the issue of The Baseball Channel until it launches.
"This would ensure that for the next two years at least, all baseball fans would have access to the 'Extra Innings' package," he said. "If we're unable to reach an agreement when the channel launches, we'd give baseball the right to cancel the 'Extra Innings' deal. We think this is a fair compromise."
Kerry, trying to play the role of mediator, got behind the effort.
"What's the matter with that?" he asked Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.
"We believe that DirecTV has the right to begin to help us build the channel," DuPuy answered, adding that the cable industry had nine months to negotiate a deal.
Kerry pressed the issue, suggesting that the status quo be kept in place while the sides tried to work out a deal. DuPuy wouldn't agree to that, although he said "our door remains open" for a resolution.
Baseball gave other incumbent carriers until the end of the month to match the $700 million, seven-year deal it announced with DirecTV on March 8. IN Demand last week made an offer it said matched the deal, but baseball rejected the proposal, saying it wanted iN Demand to match the percentage of basic tier subscribers projected to receive the package on DirecTV, a far greater number than the DirecTV total.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has been critical of the NFL's "Sunday Ticket" deal with DirecTV, issued a warning to baseball.
"When fans react, Congress reacts," Specter said. "You may be well advised to act before we do."
DirecTV president Chase Carey said that the issue was best left to the market.
"I don't run down to Washington every time we have a contract issue or a programming issue or a cost issue," he said.
DuPuy said that fans who received the out-of-town games on iN Demand or Dish have the option of switching to DirecTV or subscribing to the package on MLB.com.
"This is not a matter of fans being unable to view Major League Baseball's out-of-market games," he said. "It is a matter of not being able to watch those games on a particular system."
"Extra Innings" had more than a half-million TV subscribers last year.
EchoStar president Carl Vogel said exclusive content deals are bad for fans.
"They harm existing consumers while limiting choices in the future," he said.