In Demand is playing ball

Pacts with MLB for Extra Innings

Major League Baseball said late Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with In Demand — the buying consortium for big MSOs — for its Extra Innings premium subscription package.

Financial terms of the seven-year deal weren't announced. It wasn't immediately clear what the deal would do to the existing seven-year, $700 million pact with DirecTV that would have been exclusive had In Demand and EchoStar not matched it, though it most certainly will lower the cost for DirecTV.

Echostar, owner of Dish Network, couldn't be reached for comment. MLB was still in negotiations over Extra Innings with Dish, according to multiple sources.

In Demand's consortium of Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable agreed to a deal to carry the Baseball Channel from MLB when it launches in 2009.

When DirecTV struck a deal with MLB on March 8, it had agreed to carry the channel on a basic tier, reaching about 15 million subscribers; MLB had required In Demand's owners and Echostar's Dish Network to do the same in order to get the Extra Innings deal as well. It was unknown on what tier level the cablers would carry the channel.

MLB said Wednesday that the Baseball Channel would launch in 40 million homes in 2009 thanks to the deals with DirecTV and In Demand.

One sticking point during negotiations were the cable companies' insistence on having an ownership stake in the Baseball Channel, as DirecTV will have. MLB officials declined to discuss how that issue had been resolved.

"We couldn't be happier that we have reached an agreement with Major League Baseball and are able to make these games available to baseball fans as we have for the past five years," In Demand president and CEO Robert Jacobson said.

DirecTV president and CEO Chase Carey said the satellite provider was OK with the revised agreement.

"It recognizes DirecTV's role in this process by providing us unique financial benefits in Extra Innings, a leadership equity position in the MLB Channel, and an ability to develop expanded features available only to DirecTV customers," Carey said without elaborating.

MLB had been under intense pressure from Washington to try again to reach a deal with cable and EchoStar that wouldn't shut out millions of subscribers for the Extra Innings package, an out-of-market premium service.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had brought the sides back to the bargaining table one more time last week and, in a sign that something might happen, MLB announced that it had extended the March 30 deadline to help facilitate an agreement.