Expectations are high with just days to go before the official debut of the MLB Network. Here in North Jersey, we've already seen the network pop up on channel 790, at the tail end of the high-definition offerings on the Cablevision cable package. They're just showing World Series highlights on an endless loop for now, but come January 1st, I'll be abandoning those wacky college football games to take a peek at the Don Larsen perfect World Series game re-broadcast.
Baseball may be late getting into the league-controlled TV network game but they're not being meek about the new undertaking. According to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, the MLB Network is going to try and snap up some playoff series once some of the current contracts expire. Here's MLB Network CEO Tom Pettiti:
"We want to be ready to take on anything. Five years from now when those deals come up, we would love to be considered as a viable alternative," Pettiti says. "Our distribution would need to grow some, but production-wise and programming-wise we are more than ready for that."
Add that on top of the 26 regular season games set to be shown on Thursday nights in 2009 and the MLB Network definitely has eyes on reclaiming its product. Although I tend to believe that sports leagues controlling the media's message about their league is bad for the interest of the fans, I don't think it's bad for the MLB Network to control the broadcast of their own games. It's only in their best interest to present this product in the most entertaining way possible; they hopefully won't make the same mistakes that FOX did with unlikeable announcers and needlessly stretched out pre-game shows.
We still need other media outlets to stand apart from the league to provide real live criticism and give the fans an independent voice. Perhaps ESPN, TBS, and FOX are already too deeply invested in the league but if the current trend continues, ESPN might find itself on the outside looking in, completely devoid of live baseball games and perhaps without the right to show breaking highlights on Baseball Tonight. Hopefully they'd continue to provide fair coverage of the sport despite not making money off of it. Probably not.
Two good pieces of news for the fans: the Thursday night game of the week on the MLB Network will be chosen ten days ahead of time; if the game is blacked out locally, the network will have an alternate game on the backburner. Thursday night is baseball night, y'all. Also, every major league stadium will have two robotic cameras that can be operated remotely from the Secaucus studios. I'm not sure if these are fixed cameras or if the MLB Network has poached the FOX robots, equipped them with HD cameras, and will set them out around the concourse at Citizens Bank Park to film thousands of college kids puking behind trash cans.
(We owe Maury Brown a novelty glass bottle of Coke)