The seven-year pact was announced this afternoon at the top of Disney’s second-quarter earnings call.
Under the terms of the new agreement, ESPN will carry 30 live regular-season MLB games per year, a roster that will feature 25 installments of Sunday Night Baseball. In addition to its weekly production, ESPN also will have exclusive rights to a slate of five midweek games that includes the Opening Night contest.
The extension marks a significant diminution in ESPN’s MLB footprint, which is built around some 90 regular-season games per year. In order to pare down its baseball load by 66%, ESPN will shutter its Monday and Wednesday productions.
In keeping with the reduction in the network’s commitment to live baseball, ESPN’s rights fee has been adjusted downward. ESPN’s current $5.6 billion MLB contract averaged out to a $700 million annual payment over the last eight years; under the new arrangement, the fee has been knocked down to around $550 million per year, for a net cost just shy of $4 billion.
The deal also includes a provision for the exclusive rights to the MLB Wild Card Series, which would kick in as soon as the playoff round expands. If the players’ union votes against a beefed-up Wild Card slate, ESPN would continue airing one of two extant Wild Card games while receiving eight additional regular-season windows as compensation.
The Disney announcement comes as Sunday Night Baseball is currently averaging 1.65 million viewers per telecast, which marks an increase compared to the uninterrupted 2019 season.
ESPN’s renewal arrives well after MLB’s other media partners wrapped their respective extensions. Back in November 2018, Fox inked a $5.1 billion deal that secured its stewardship of the World Series through 2028. Turner Sports re-upped last September in a $3.2 billion deal.
The MLB renewal is just the latest top-tier sports pact engineered by ESPN exec VP of programming and original content Burke Magnus, who over the last several weeks has been on a tear. In March, Magnus lured the NHL back to Bristol in a deal valued at north of $2 billion, which was followed up by a blockbuster renewal with the NFL that will see ABC return to the Super Bowl rotation for the first time since 2006.
Magnus’ team also finessed a deal to free up LaLiga from its beIN Sports contract, giving ESPN+ the rights to live coverage of the Spanish league that counts Barcelona and Real Madrid among its signature clubs.
(This story was corrected in the fifth paragraph to reflect the accurate annual rights fee average ESPN will pay under the new contract.)