ESPN shows ‘passing interest’ in Korean baseball rights

US sports broadcaster ESPN is said to have approached the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) on the possibility of transmitting South Korean baseball games to its American audience.

With no baseball currently being aired in the US due to all Major League Baseball operations being postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, ESPN is said to be showing some ‘passing interest’, with ‘nothing concrete’ having been decided in terms of the format or the extent of the broadcast, the Yonhap News Agency reports.

One source speaking to the Yonhap News Agency said that ESPN had “contacted the KBO about how to go about showing Korean games in the US. But as far as I know, there haven’t been any specific talks about how they’re going to air games”. Another source claimed that ESPN recently reached out to the agency selling the international rights to the KBO.

ESPN agreed in March to expand its international rights to MLB, covering the 2020-21 season. The expanded deal includes live over-the-top rights across much of Europe and all of sub-Saharan Africa, bringing MLB to the ESPN Player subscription service to 96 countries across the two continents.

The KBO recently launched a tender for the distribution of its media rights in territories outside Korea, covering the 2020 to 2023 seasons. Bids for the international media rights had to be submitted by March 19.

The tender covered exhibition games, regular-season games, post-season/Korean Series games, and All-Star games. Video feeds were to be provided by Korean broadcasters, and all expenses for the production of an international feed – if deemed necessary – and overseas transmission must be borne by the winner of the tender.

The board of directors at the KBO have agreed to approve practice games starting on April 21, however no firm date for the full season to commence has been confirmed.

The 2020-21 MLB season was scheduled to begin on March 26 but was postponed in mid-March. The KBO League season was scheduled to start on March 28, but South Korea appear to be closer to a date where it is able to relax its social distancing measures and starting its season than the US is.

While the KBO has mooted May 1 and May 5  as potential opening dates, the board of directors will decide the exact dates once the country’s social distancing procedures are reviewed on April 19. Should the Covid-19 sanctions be eased, the opening date will be confirmed by the board when they meet again on April 21.

In terms of domestic broadcast rights, the KBO has already signed contracts with three terrestrial companies KBS, MBC, and SBS in February for an annual average of KRW 54bn (€40.5m/$44.5m) for four years from 2020 to 2023.