WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry urged Major League Baseball on
Tuesday to hold off on a deal to put the sport's "Extra Innings"
package of out-of-market games exclusively on DirecTV Group Inc. A
top baseball official declined to agree, with opening day less than
a week away.
Kerry, D-Mass., made the push at a Senate Commerce Committee
hearing on behalf of subscribers to cable TV and EchoStar
Communications Corp.'s Dish Network who had received the package
The dispute concerns which homes will receive baseball's new
television network in 2009. DirecTV, a satellite service, has
agreed to carry that package as part of its deal. The company would
also receive an equity stake in the channel.
At Tuesday's hearing, Rob Jacobson, president and CEO of iN
Demand, owned by affiliates of the companies that own Time Warner
Cable Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., offered to
carry the package on the same terms that DirecTV is, while putting
off the issue of The Baseball Channel until it is launched.
"This would ensure that for the next two years at least, all
baseball fans would have access to the 'Extra Innings' package,"
he said. "If we're unable to reach an agreement when the channel
launches, we'd give baseball the right to cancel the 'Extra
Innings' deal. We think this is a fair compromise."
Kerry, often playing the role of mediator, got behind the
"What's the matter with that?" he asked Bob DuPuy, baseball's
chief operating officer.
"We believe that DirecTV has the right to begin to help us
build the channel," DuPuy answered, adding that the cable industry
had nine months to negotiate a deal.
Kerry pressed the issue, suggesting that the status quo be kept
in place while the sides tried to work out a deal.
DuPuy wouldn't agree to that, although he said, "Our door
remains open" for a resolution.
Baseball gave other incumbent carriers until the end of the
month to match the $700 million, seven-year deal it announced with
DirecTV on March 8. IN Demand recently made an offer it said
matched the deal, but Major League Baseball said it fell short.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has been critical of the National
Football League's "Sunday Ticket" deal with DirecTV, which allows
viewers to watch teams outside their regional markets, issued a
warning to baseball.
"When fans react, Congress reacts," he said, adding, "You may
be well advised to act before we do."
Chase Carey, president and CEO of DirecTV, said that the issue
was a business one that was best left to the market.
"I don't run down to Washington every time we have a contract
issue or a programming issue or a cost issue," he said.
DuPuy said that fans who have gotten the out-of-town games on
other providers will still have the option of receiving them this
year: by switching to DirecTV or subscribing to MLB.TV to watch the
games on the Internet.
"This is not a matter of fans being unable to view Major League
Baseball's out-of-market games," he said. "It is a matter of not
being able to watch those games on a particular system."
"Extra Innings" had more than a half-million TV subscribers
Carl Vogel, president of EchoStar, said exclusive content deals
are bad for fans.
"They harm existing consumers while limiting choices in the
future," he said.
Kerry, who has asked the Federal Communications Commission to
investigate, said in an interview after the hearing that
legislation was a possibility but not his preference.
"Obviously, we're interested in it, a number of senators
suggested the possibility of Congress doing something, but I'd like
to see the parties get together in the next four days and hopefully
resolve this," he said.
"If they can't get together, we are where we are and we'll look
at what we're going to do."