WarnerMedia, Major League Baseball Reach 7-Year Rights Extension At Reported $3.75B; Will HBO Max Benefit?

WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports and Major League Baseball have reached a seven-year rights extension through 2028, with HBO Max potentially a future venue for game broadcasts.

While the partners are not commenting on the valuation of the deal, it has been reported to be $3.75 billion, or $535 million a year.

The re-up will keep games on TBS, a longtime MLB broadcaster with particular prominence in the postseason. Under the new agreement, TBS will add a season-long Tuesday night game franchise and digital rights will be added to Bleacher Report plus what the official announcement called “additional WarnerMedia platforms.”

One of those platforms is HBO Max, which launched in May and has gotten off to a sluggish start. An ad-supported tier of the subscription service is due to launch in 2021 and executives have said it will include live sports and news. No details have emerged about those offerings as of yet and a rep declined to elaborate on what was in the announcement.

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Bleacher Report streaming service B/R Live, like DC Universe and FilmStruck, has been eliminated by the parent company, but the brand remains a powerful online and social media engine. It will gain access to additional footage and highlight rights under the renewed deal.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which has hit the market in tandem with HBO Max, is banking on sports as a key part of its offerings. It has aired U.S. Open golf, NHL hockey, Premier League soccer and will have an NFL playoff game in January.

For WarnerMedia, the deal has plenty of implications for its linear TV lineup. On Tuesday nights on TBS, Ernie Johnson will host a studio show, with former players Pedro Martinez, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson.

That will give TBS a companion weeknight programming element to TNT’s NBA coverage. While TNT and TBS made strides in original programming in recent years, they are facing intense headwinds, as are other cable networks, as viewership and advertising revenue erodes. Development and programming activities once designated for the networks are expected to shift toward HBO Max.

Under the new deal, TBS will have exclusive rights to televise one League Championship Series, alternating between the American and National leagues, in addition to wild-card and divisional rounds.

Digital rights include TV Everywhere streaming, which allows pay-TV subscribers to stream games via authenticated Turner Sports platforms.

“We’re delighted to extend our long-standing relationship with Major League Baseball and all of the opportunities this agreement offers us as we broaden our coverage of the game across all of our platforms,” said Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports. “We will continue to further evolve our multiplatform delivery of content with a focus on storytelling and innovation in all forms.”

The partnership between Turner and MLB dates to 1973, when Atlanta Braves games were televised on WTCG, which, over time, became TBS. Turner Broadcasting founder Ted Turner used Braves broadcasts as a key element in scaling his “superstation” in the 1970s, the dawn of the cable TV age.

“As we prepare for another year of exciting October baseball, I am proud Turner Sports will continue to be a part of the postseason as we expand on this long-term partnership,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “This agreement positions both organizations for mutual growth by continuing postseason coverage on TBS, delivering a new Tuesday night baseball franchise, and expanding baseball’s presence on Turner Sports’ digital platforms.”

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