IN Demand offers to match DirecTV's MLB offer

NEW YORK -- Cable television said it offered to match DirecTV's deal for the "Extra Innings" package of out-of-market games, but Major League Baseball claimed the proposal fell short.

The quick rejection, in a dispute largely over how many homes will receive baseball's new television network in 2009, leaves the package on track to go exclusively to DirecTV, which cannot be received in some areas.

"We cannot put the interests of what we believe are a relatively small minority of fans over what we believe are the best interests of the entire fan base as a whole," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

When baseball announced its $700 million, seven-year deal with DirecTV on March 8, it gave the other incumbent carriers until the end of the month to match the deal.

IN Demand, owned by affiliates of the companies that own the Time Warner, Comcast and Cox cable systems, said Wednesday it was agreeing to the terms and that its partners would carry The Baseball Channel when it launches in 2009 to at least the same number of subscribers who will get the channel on DirecTV.

"As the current home for 'Extra Innings' for more than 200,000 cable subscribers, we have extended ourselves to do our best to be able to continue to provide this package to baseball fans and our customers," iN Demand president Robert Jacobson said. "This offer meets all the conditions set forth by MLB last week."

Not so fast, said DuPuy.

IN Demand offered to distribute The Baseball Channel to the 15 million homes projected to receive it on DirecTV -- 80 percent of the company's subscribers. Baseball wants it to be available to a larger figure -- 80 percent of the digital households of iN Demand's owners and affiliates, DuPuy said in his letter to the FCC.

"The communication sent to our office today by iN Demand is not responsive to that offer," DuPuy said in a statement. "In spite of their public comments, the response falls short of nearly all of the material conditions (among them requirements for carriage of The Baseball Channel and their share of the rights fees for Extra Innings) set forth in the Major League Baseball offer made to them on March 9."

DuPuy said the March 31 deadline to match remains. In addition, only DirecTV would receive an equity stake, DuPuy said.

"By rejecting this matching offer, MLB has proven it never intended for iN Demand to have a fair and equal opportunity to bid for Extra Innings," Jacobson said. "Our offer was fully responsive to MLB's requirements and public statements."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is to chair a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee on the "Extra Innings" package on March 27.

"Extra Innings" had more than 500,000 television subscribers last year plus about 60 percent more on MLB.com, the sport's Web site. DirecTV has estimated only about 5,000 "Extra Innings" subscribers would lose access to it on television.

EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network also has carried the "Extra Innings" package. Dish spokeswoman Kathie Gonzalez did not return a call seeking comment.

IN Demand is owned by Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership, Comcast iN Demand Holdings Corp. and Cox Communications Holdings Inc.