New York Sixty million consumers would lose access to baseball's television package of out-of-market games if the sport is allowed to strike an exclusive deal with DirecTV, according to Sen. John Kerry.
A day ahead of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, the Massachusetts Democrat said the deal probably was legal but might not be good for fans.
"When you've got 75 million people who currently have the option of doing something and you reduce it to 15 million, you've got to ask, are the terms of this deal fair, and does it work for the fan and for the sport itself?" he said during a conference call Monday.
Under a $700 million, seven-year agreement announced March 8, baseball's "Extra Innings" package would move exclusively to DirecTV starting this season, and the sport's new television network would go to DirecTV starting in 2009.
IN Demand, owned by affiliates of the companies that own Time Warner, Comcast and Cox cable systems, and EchoStar's Dish Network have until this weekend to match the offer. When iN Demand announced last week that it was matching, baseball immediately rejected the proposal, saying it wanted its new channel to be available to the same percentage of homes on cable as on DirecTV rather than the same amount of homes.
DirecTV says only about 5,000 customers who currently receive the package won't have the ability to get it on television, and baseball says those consumers can buy the games on MLB.com.
"Our hope is that iN Demand and Dish opt in and that all fans have an opportunity to receive the 'Extra Innings' package," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "This is not about iN Demand or Dish not being able to match the DirecTV offer, it is about their willingness to do so. This was a negotiation at arms length over several months. DirecTV set the market. It is up to the other bidders to meet it."
DuPuy is to testify at the hearing along with DirecTV president Chase Carey, iN Demand president Robert Jacobson, EchoStar president Carl Vogel and Penn State law professor Stephen Ross.
"Fans are pretty discerning," Kerry said. "I think they'll have a terrific ability to say, 'Well, that's a crock or this isn't,' and kind of get a read on it."
Kerry, who asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate, said he hadn't been given a copy of DirecTV's deal and wasn't sure whether he had a right to it.