Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Baseball Faces Federal Suit ESPN Tries to Salvage Its Contract

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Baseball Faces Federal Suit ESPN Tries to Salvage Its Contract

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- ESPN's 10th season of baseball could be its last because of a conflict with NFL games.

ESPN sued Major League Baseball in federal court yesterday to try to prevent termination of the network's regular-season contract, which has three years to run.

For the second consecutive season, baseball is refusing to allow the network to switch three September Sunday night games to ESPN2 and run NFL games on the bigger-audience ESPN.

"Baseball has attempted to extort hundreds of million of dollars of economic concessions as the `price' for its consent," ESPN said in a 30-page complaint.

Paul Beeston, the chief aide to commissioner Bud Selig, sent ESPN a letter April 21 saying the sport was terminating its $40 million-a-year deal with the network after this season.

ESPN asked for an injunction preventing baseball from ending the deal, an unspecified amount of money and a declaratory judgment forcing baseball to grant permission to switch the three telecasts.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

In a statement released yesterday, Beeston said baseball "regrets that it was forced to terminate its contract with ESPN at the end of the season. We have had a good relationship with ESPN throughout this decade, and we still cling to hopes that it will continue into the next."

ESPN wants to make the switch to accommodate its $4.8 billion deal with the NFL. ESPN is available to about 76.2 million homes, while ESPN2 is available in 64.5 million.

Last year, baseball officials blocked the switch and, amidst threats of legal action by both sides, the broadcast rights were turned back to the teams involved.

ESPN said baseball demanded about $30 million in financial concessions as a condition for giving its approval.

Viewers wound up missing Cal Ripken end his record consecutive-games streak and one of Mark McGwire's contests as he chased and passed Roger Maris' home run record.

When ESPN and baseball turned their attention to the matter in January, the network said the sport asked for an additional $350 million for 1999-2002 plus a two-year extension at an annual threefold increase over the rights fee agreed to in 2002. …

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