BBC seals streaming-only deal for MLB's London debut
By Jonathan Rest
BT Sport, the UK pay-television operator, will be the sole domestic TV broadcaster for Major League Baseball's London games in 2019 and 2020, after public-service network the BBC signed a streaming-only deal with the top North American league.
The two agreements were formally announced by all parties today, after Sportcal reported back in November that a renewal of the league-wide deal with BT Sport was close, as was an agreement with the BBC to give the league a much-craved free-to-air home for the first-ever regular-season games in the UK capital.
MLB officials had been in talks with prospective broadcasters in the country since June 2018, and visited London in late-August for face-to-face talks.
The contract with the BBC covers the 29 and 30 June contests between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, two of the league's most popular teams, to be played at the London Stadium, the former Olympic Stadium, as well as the two games in 2020, the teams for which have yet to be unveiled.
The BBC will stream the matches on the iPlayer and the BBC Sport website in what marks the first rights deal between the league and the broadcaster.
Meanwhile, BT Sport will continue as the home of MLB in the UK and Ireland until at least 2021, showing at least 12 live regular-season games per week, and showpiece events such as the All-Star Game and World Series.
MLB has been televised on BT Sport since 2013 when US broadcaster ESPN sold its UK and Ireland TV channels business to the telecoms giant, and the anticipated renewal comes despite the broadcaster cutting back on its rights outlay in recent months.
As part of the contract extension, ESPN will produce a weekly MLB show, 'Caps Off', created specifically for the UK and Ireland market to be shown on BT Sport’s social media and TV channels.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said: “Reaching agreements with two of the UK’s premier broadcasters is an important milestone as the anticipation and excitement for the Mitel & MLB Present London Series continues to grow. We’re looking forward with working with both BBC and BT Sport to bring the best possible presentation of our sport to viewers in the UK.”
MLB is following in the footsteps of American football's NFL and basketball's NBA by bringing regular-season games to London, and was known to be particularly keen to get a free-to-air rights deal in place to showcase the sport to the widest possible audience.
The NFL has played regular season games in London for the past decade, and since 2015 these have been shown on both the BBC and Sky, the pay-TV operator that is the league's long-term media rights partner.
The NBA's annual London game has only been shown on pay-TV, first by BT Sport and now by Sky after the rights switched hands ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Paris is replacing London as the home of the NBA's regular-season game in Europe from next year.