Less than a week after ESPN’s negotiations to acquire broadcast rights to Korea Baseball Organization games were reported to be all but dead, Jee-ho Yoo and Chang-yong Shin of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency now report that a deal is nearing completion. Yoo reported last week that ESPN had sought to acquire broadcast rights from Korean counterpart Eclat without any up-front payment — ultimately offering only a percentage of revenue if broadcasts proved profitable — despite the increased production costs for Eclat.
Additional details remain sparse at this time, though the Yonhap duo adds that the deal being discussed would allow ESPN to broadcast multiple KBO contests per week. South Korea’s 10-team league is slated to begin its regular season on May 5 — a bit more than five weeks after the initially scheduled season opener on March 28. The KBO season will begin without fans, although MBC’s Daniel Kim tweets that the league is discussing a plan to gradually allow fans back into stadiums, beginning with a 20-25 percent capacity and incrementally increasing from there.
Several health regulations will be in place for players and gameday personnel as well (multiple tests per player prior to games, no spitting allowed, players and personnel in masks throughout the stadium except on the field/in the dugout, gloves and masks for umpires, strong discouragement of handshakes and high-fives). A player showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be immediately be tested and quarantined, while his stadium would be subject to a 48-hour closure for cleaning. A positive test from a player wouldn’t necessarily shut down the league but would prompt an immediate meeting between owners, league officials and health experts about the potential stoppage of play.
There’s still no concrete plan for when Major League Baseball can attempt to resume play (or whether it definitively will). The lack of baseball and other professional sports has been an obvious enormous strain not only on ESPN but all sports media outlets throughout the world. ESPN’s interest in airing some KBO play, then, isn’t surprising — but it’s also not without risk. Some sports-starved fans will surely flock to any competitive play, but there’s no guarantee on the extent of fan interest, and advertisers could be wary paying a hefty rate for an untested product in the United States.
For baseball fans, though, it’s an easy win — creating a readily accessible means of viewing one of the world’s top professional leagues and even offering a chance to see a handful of former big leaguers suiting up overseas. MLBTR ran through more than 30 former Major Leaguers who are set to play out the 2020 season in the KBO last week.