As ESPN continues to struggle with falling ratings and fewer subscribers, the next casualty at the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" may be baseball coverage. ESPN recently sent out a survey to sports fans asking about their baseball viewing habits, leading to speculation that the network may be considering cutting or reducing its baseball coverage to save money, especially with higher costs for its NFL and NBA coverage.
ESPN's current contract with Major League Baseball runs through 2021, but after that its baseball coverage may look much different. "What I can see happening maybe, is ESPN saying yes Major League Baseball, we still want to carry your games, but we only want to carry the postseason," says Sportstalk 790 host Matt Thomas. "I could see them dropping regular season games dramatically, and letting (baseball's) own network, the MLB Network be that main place to go to find regular season games."
Thomas tells KTRH that in the current climate, most baseball fans prefer to watch games on regional networks that carry their local team and local broadcasters, like ROOT Sports does here in Houston with Astros games. "Every Astro game is now on television, that's 162," says Thomas. "So many games, so many options, and the MLB Network constantly putting games on has really minimized, I think, what people want to do in terms of being there in front of a television on a particular day and time, because there are so many other options to watch games."
Nevertheless, Thomas doesn't see national cable networks completely abandoning the national pastime. "Ultimately, I think ESPN and TBS will still carry games, and there will still be high-dollar amounts (for the rights), but it just may not be at the epic levels it's been the last 20 years," he says.