MLB Network, ESPN to televise Classic

All 39 games of international tournament to be broadcast

Ichiro Suzuki helped Japan win the inaugural World Baseball Classic title in 2006.  (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

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ESPN and the new MLB Network will televise the entire slate of 39 World Baseball Classic games next year from March 5-23, it was announced on Tuesday.

ESPN will televise 23 games of the tournament in the U.S., including the semifinal and final games, across ESPN and ESPN2, and on its Spanish-language platform ESPN Deportes.

The MLB Network, which will launch on basic cable to a record potential audience of 50 million homes this Jan. 1, is slated to broadcast 16 of the Classic games.

"ESPN has the proven ability to convey the excitement and national pride that the World Baseball Classic generates among the players and fans," Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. "With so many interesting stories to cover, the World Baseball Classic is the perfect event to air on MLB Network."

The second running of the Classic will open next year with the Asian bracket in Tokyo Dome on March 5 and close with the finals at Dodger Stadium on March 23.

In the 2006 inaugural Classic, Japan won the championship, defeating Cuba in the finals at San Diego's PETCO Park.

PETCO will be a second-round venue this year, with Miami's Dolphin Stadium staging the other second-round games.

No first-round games will be played in the U.S. this time around. Toronto, Mexico City and San Juan, Puerto Rico, will be the other first-round hosts.

The MLB Network plans blanket coverage of the event, which will be staged again in 2013, and every four years after that.

World Baseball Classic Tonight, which will debut in late February, will feature highlights, analysis, feature stories and special reports on the tournament, its teams, players and coaches. MLB Network also will air the World Baseball Classic Selection Show, a studio show reporting the announcement of rosters for the 16 nations and commonwealths participating.

"The acquisition of the World Baseball Classic demonstrates our commitment to airing big events and showcasing a wide variety of baseball programming," said Tony Petitti, MLB Network president and chief executive. "With game broadcasts and studio programming dedicated to the World Baseball Classic, MLB Network will provide in-depth coverage to all of the action and stories of the ultimate global baseball tournament."

ESPN's agreement includes English and Spanish radio broadcast rights as well as digital rights, including the live streaming of games on ESPN360.com. In 2006, more than 24 million fans watched ESPN's U.S. broadcast of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

ESPN International has also obtained the rights to broadcast all 39 games of the 2009 tournament outside the U.S. to 167 countries in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

"ESPN looks forward to working with the World Baseball Classic to build on what we started in 2006," said Len DeLuca, ESPN senior vice president of programming and acquisitions. "We have more games for ESPN, a deeper multimedia offering, and wider international rights. We look forward to collaborating to make this the best global championship in March."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.