PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) –- One of the biggest myths baseball perpetuates on America is that no other sports are played during All-Star week.
Though that's false, Major League Baseball has just enough willing accomplices to make it seem true.
On Tuesday, the day of this year's All-Star Game, Disney's (DIS) ESPN listed just one other event on its sports calendar: The Tour de France, which was on a rest day and had recaps airing on Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC Sports Network. What ESPN failed to mention is that it had competing sports programming of its own airing that same evening.
During the hours that Fox (FOXA) aired the All-Star Game, ESPN had access to live broadcasts of the U.S. national lacrosse team playing the Iroquois Nationals in the World Lacrosse Championships, the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks taking on the Houston Comets and an NBA Summer League game between the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards. None of that comes close to the caliber of the All-Star Game, which makes ESPN's decision to bury actual sports coverage all the more bizarre.
ESPN plugged up its flagship network with SportsCenter coverage from the All-Star Game host site of Target Field in Minneapolis before switching to the World Series Of Poker. The network dropped its WNBA game to ESPN2 for an 8 p.m. EST showing that followed an awards ceremony. The lacrosse championship, meanwhile, was foisted on to the ESPN U college station, while NBA summer league games were relegated to the streaming-only ESPN3.
That's a whole lot of sports that ESPN could've given a chance to shine. We've pointed out ESPN's awkward juggling of sports before, but it's really something to behold when the All-Star Game comes around. Consider that NBC Sports Network's Tour de France coverage on the day of the All-Star Game consisted of little other than rest-day recaps and analysis, which ESPN parried with poker.
Even worse, however, was the following day. Major League Baseball had the day off and NBC's coverage of Stage 11 of the Tour de France aired live and then twice more before being shown again at 8 p.m. EST.
What did ESPN send up against it? The ESPYS: Its annual awards show that costs upwards of $7 million to produce and gets the network cozy with the athletes it's supposed to objectively cover (although athletes get awards and compensation from their own leagues, mind you).
Last year, after ESPN laid off roughly 400 employees, the ESPYs drew 2.3 million viewers -- or less than two reruns of Family Guy on the Cartoon Network (3 million and 2.7 million), four reruns of The Big Bang Theory on TBS (between 3.1 million and 3.2 million each) and the premiere of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC.
This year, ESPN trudged on with the ESPYs and shipped a matchup between Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls to ESPN2. Under ordinary circumstances, that's understandable: MLS matches average less than 220,000 viewers and trail WNBA broadcasts.
However, with the World Cup just ended and the network joining Fox in shelling out $600 million for the rights to both MLS and U.S. national team matches through 2022, wouldn't you want to build off the World Cup momentum and boost coverage that's been missing for years?
Couldn't you bump the ESPYs up to ABC and maybe bail the World Lacrosse Championships out of ESPN3 streaming purgatory? Maybe you could avoid the embarrassment of bumping actual college sports off of ESPNU in favor of Southeast Conference football media days?
Nope. Not happening. Why? Because ESPN has no interest in competing with Major League Baseball on All-Star night and no interest in showing sports when it's spending millions on sports entertainment.
Remember that $600 million figure that ESPN and Fox spent on MLS? ESPN entered a deal with Major League Baseball this year that pays baseball $700 million per season for eight years. That lets ESPN show regular-season games, postseason Wild Card games...and the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby and Futures Game.
And why should it do soccer any favors? ESPN lost its bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup broadcasts to Fox, which has scooped up soccer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, German Bundesliga, UEFA Champions Cup and FA Cup rights. ESPN won't even get to show the Women's World Cup next year, as Fox has the rights to that, too.
Meanwhile, ESPN has a $2.3 billion deal with the Southeastern Conference for the rights to its broadcasts -- football, most importantly -- and has paid $7.2 billion to lock up the rights to college football's playoffs through 2026. Sorry, lacrosse, but ESPN's paying several times more for a fraction of college football than it is for both collegiate and professional lacrosse combined. Off to the streaming network with you.
Unfortunately, that big money goes a long way toward helping baseball box out those three All-Star days. Major League Soccer's other partner, Fox, just agreed to pay $500 million a year through 2021 to broadcast baseball's regular-season games, All-Star Game, playoff games and World Series.
It has a lot of financial incentive not to air Major League Soccer games during the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game and could only offer MLS its Fox Sports 1 as an alternative to a second-fiddle ESPN spot during the ESPYs.
NBC Sports, meanwhile, might have considered a bit of soccer counter-programming had MLS not just walked away from its network to sign on with ESPN and Fox.
The NBA, meanwhile, has no ratings leverage with either its WNBA or summer league games, but could twist ESPN's arm as it hammers out a new TV rights deal this year. If Fox pushes for a chunk of the league's broadcast rights for its Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 networks, giving the summer league and WNBA more exposure -- similar to the NFL combine -- might be one concession ESPN can offer.
Speaking of the NFL, that particular entity could sneeze around this time of year and fans would flock by the millions to hand it a tissue. Commissioner Roger Goodell has long lobbied for a longer season and longer preseason. The NFL already plays its first preseason game of the year on August 3.
If the league opted either to move that exhibition back a few weeks to an air-conditioned, enclosed venue or to play an soccer-style “friendly” exhibition somewhere in the world -- the commissioner seems fond of London -- that might be the All-Star offer networks have a difficult time saying no to.
There are other sports to be played the week of baseball's All-Star Game and on the day of the game itself. With the television audience for the All-Star Game dropping from 22 million in 1994 to roughly 11 million this year, there are plenty of sports fans to go around.
It just takes one bold league and a willing broadcast partner to help themselves to the emptiest days on the sports calendar.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.
>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.
>To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.