SINCE ITS debutin 1996, the major league baseball Extra Innings package has been a godsend forfans with loose definitions of hometown team. For a $179 fee, viewers could getout-of-market regular-season games from their cable or satellite provider.Marlins fans based in Seattle (both of them!) could follow their team asclosely as if they lived in South Florida.
There were500,000 Extra Innings subscribers in 2006, and rights fees from cable andsatellite companies put $40 million million in Major League Baseball's coffers.That number is about to grow—even as Extra Innings gets harder for many fans tofind. Baseball is pursuing a deal that would make DirecTV the exclusiveprovider of its out-of-market package for the next seven years. The satelliteprovider would pay $700 million for the rights; MLB reportedly turned down a$70 million per year offer from a consortium of cable providers. (Time WarnerCable, a division of SI's parent company, Time Warner, is part of thegroup.)
Neither MLB norDirecTV would comment, but the satellite jump appears driven by MLB's desirefor a 24/7 channel. Cable companies reportedly refused to include one in theirbasic services—a promise DirecTV is more than willing to make. (The BaseballNetwork would debut on the service in 2009.) MLB may also be trying to steerviewers toward its website, where, for $89.95 a year, fans can watchout-of-market games on MLB.TV. Last year the service had 300,000 subscribers,and some in the industry think baseball is planning to take MLB Advanced Media,its online operation, public. Says Ben Silverman, an editor at the investmentservice site findprofit.com, "Investment bankers say [an IPO] could besuccessful, given the amount of business and the MLB brand attached."
The proposed dealhas infuriated fans who don't have DirecTV. Among them is a prominent Red Soxsupporter: Massachusetts senator John Kerry (left), who last week persuaded theFCC to look into the deal. Kerry is adamant that the arrangement will leavefans "screwed," with fewer choices and higher prices. "I share yourconcerns," said FCC chairman Kevin Martin in a letter to Kerry. "I amconcerned whenever consumers cannot purchase the programming they want or areforced to purchase programming they don't want."
some dubious judging kept Dwight Howard out of thefinals of the NBA slam dunk contest—and deprived fans of seeing how the Magicbig man would follow his sticker dunk. (He slapped a sticker of his face on thebackboard 12'6" off the ground.) Well, wonder no more. Video of the dunksHoward planned for the finals, including one on which he busses the rim is onwww.YouTube.com (called Dwight Howard Kiss the Rim Dunk). The verdict: He wouldhave won. Easily.
SPORTS FILMS were a nonfactor at Sunday's AcademyAwards. (Really, was anyone surprised that The Benchwarmers was snubbed?) Butat the Genies, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars, a hockey flick was thebig winner. The Rocket, a biopic about French Canadian Hall of Famer MauriceRichard and his struggles in a league dominated by English speakers, took nineof the 13 awards it was nominated for. The movie, which is in French withEnglish subtitles, was never released in the U.S.—but it is available onDVD.