A lot less ESPN. Tuesdays with TBS. Then throw in a fruit (Apple) and a bird (Peacock) to mix with MLB Network, Fox and FS1.
Those are the key players in the significant ways in which baseball fans will watch games this season — and in some cases, watch fewer games than they did last year.
The wave of popularity in streaming has Major League Baseball cashing in on another revenue source, though these productions will be available to fewer fans than traditional television outlets.
• MLB has contracted with Apple TV+ for Friday night doubleheaders, games that will be Apple exclusives — meaning there will be no local telecasts. When the Cardinals play there, the only way to watch will be through Apple TV+. That service costs $4.99 monthly, though the company says the games will be offered without a subscription being needed for at least the first half of the season, for which it has set its schedule. The Cards are to make three appearances — road games against the Reds (April 22) and Pirates (May 20) and a home contest against the Cubs (June 24).
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• The Peacock streaming service has been in talks with MLB to show early games on 18 Sundays. And we do mean early — shortly after 10:30 am or 11 am (St. Louis time) most weeks. Peacock, which is owned by NBCUniversal, costs $9.99 monthly and it is believed would have exclusive rights, too, other than for its debut production that reportedly will be simulcast on NBC. (That means no Bally Sports Midwest for Cards games, just like with Apple TV+.) There’s no word on whether a grace period would be offered on the subscription fee.
All of this will be similar to games previously being moved from regional sports networks, such as Bally Sports Midwest with the Cardinals, to streaming platforms Facebook and YouTube.
• ESPN has drastically cut its schedule, from 90 games last season to 29 — all but four of which will be on its long-running “Sunday Night Baseball” series. And SNB not only has a new look, but a new approach that will focus more on analytics.
Karl Ravech replaces Matt Vasgersian on play-by-play and will work with commentators Eduardo Perez and David Cone, who take over for Alex Rodriguez. But Rodriguez isn’t gone, as he’ll join play-by-play broadcaster Michael Kay for eight alternative-version telecasts set to air on ESPN2. It’s a similar approach those networks take with Peyton and Eli Manning for some Monday Night Football games.
The changes on Sunday Night Baseball go deeper that who is in the booth, but also will involve what they are saying. “Advanced metrics” such as launch angle, barrel rate, OPS and spin rate figure to be more the focus than traditional stats such as RBIs, stolen bases and ERA.
“We … believe (Cone and Perez) will offer a master class in contemporary analysis, including Statcast-driven data and discussion,” ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said.
• A chunk of the national schedule goes to TBS, which will have a Tuesday night game throughout the season that replaces its Sunday afternoon partial-season lineup. Its schedule begins April 12 with San Diego at San Francisco, and Cardinals-Mets is on April 26. But that TBS production will be blacked out in the St. Louis market in favor of Bally Sports Midwest’s telecast.
• Fox/FS1 is back with its Saturday package, with some games airing in the afternoon and others at night. The Cardinals are scheduled for six appearances, beginning May 1 with their game in San Francisco.
• MLB Network again has the biggest load, more than 200 live contests. But any Cardinals appearances will be blacked out in the St. Louis market in favor of BSM’s version of the telecast.
The retirement of Mike Shannon, whose career of broadcasting Cardinals games ended last year after 50 seasons, has led to consolidation of the team’s broadcast roster.
Shannon was working exclusively on radio and had reduced his schedule in recent years, down to about 50 home games last year. He will not be replaced, as John Rooney and Ricky Horton now have the full schedule. They previously had been the road team, with Rooney also working the home contests — with Shannon when he was present. Horton stepped in when Shannon was off.
Mike Claiborne remains the fill-in broadcaster when Rooney or Horton is absent and continues to be involved in the pregame and postgame shows that will be hosted by a rotation of Tom Ackerman, Kevin Wheeler and Joe Pott.
Shannon’s exit also impacts the television booth a bit, as Horton’s now full involvement in radio knocks him out of the rotation of commentators working alongside play-by-play broadcaster Dan McLaughlin. But Horton is set to appear on some BSM pre/postgame programs.
Jim Edmonds and Brad Thompson will take turns in the booth-analyst role. Rick Ankiel, who also had been part of the mix, instead will work occasionally on pre/postgame shows. So will Al Hrabosky.
Scott Warmann and Alexa Datt are the primary hosts of those programs, with Jim Hayes being the main in-game reporter.
No à la carte Cards
While streaming is a growing force on the national level and remains a component of Bally Sports Midwest’s Cards coverage, a subscription to a programming provider that carries BSM still is needed in order to stream those games.
BSM parent company Sinclair Broadcasting has been talking for quite some time about making streaming of its many regional sports networks available to fans to purchase directly, but that hasn’t happened yet. And the Cardinals don’t appear to be included in the first wave of the rollout.
BSM’s direct-to-consumer option is expected to start at some point this season with five teams reportedly participating — Kansas City, Detroit, Milwaukee, Miami and Tampa Bay.