Take-Two Interactive ( TTWO) is heading for the big leagues. The video game software publisher announced on Monday that it signed long-term licensing deals with Major League Baseball and baseball's Internet marketing company. Take-Two also confirmed a similar deal with the Major League Baseball Players Association that the players union
announced last week. Following the players association announcement, the deals with baseball and the marketing company, which begin in 2006, were widely expected. Indeed, investors seemed to shrug off the deal, more or less, bidding up Take-Two shares just 36 cents, or 1% in recent trading, to $35.35. Under the agreements, Take-Two will be the only "third-party" developer who has the right to develop baseball games using MLB content and players. The deals extend to console, PC and handheld game platforms. The parties did not disclose any financial details of the deals or their specific duration. The agreements would allow console makers such as Sony ( SNE) and Microsoft ( MSFT) to develop baseball games for their own platforms. But the deals preclude Electronic Arts ( ERTS) and other rival independent game publishers from developing MLB baseball games either by themselves or in concert with the hardware manufacturers. Some analysts had speculated last week that despite Take-Two's claim that the deals were "exclusives," EA might be able to team up with Sony, say, to develop a baseball game for the PlayStation 2. But the agreements appear to close that loophole. In a related announcement, Take-Two has signed New York Yankees star Derek Jeter to be the spokesman for its baseball games. Take-Two's move to lock up the rights to baseball follows similar maneuvers by chief rival EA. After fighting a pricing battle with Take-Two in the sports-game market last year, EA moved to prevent that in the future by signing an exclusive deal with the National Football League and another one with Disney's ( DIS) ESPN sports media division.
NFL games are the most popular among sports titles in the U.S., and Take-Two's entry last year represented a real threat to EA's sports dominance. Meanwhile, the ESPN deal wrested the ESPN brand away from Take-Two. After the baseball players association announced its deal with Take-Two last week, EA officials dismissed the move, noting that baseball was one of the company's least popular sports titles. EA's investors seemed unconcerned by Take-Two's latest agreements. In recent trading, the company's shares were up $1.44, or 2.3%, to $63.35.