The announcement Tuesday of Bob Costas becoming part of the new MLB Network is, no doubt, a coup for the new 24/7 baseball channel. The notion of Costas teaming up with MLB Network had been rumored, but until the announcement, it was a question of whether he would be nothing more than an occasional host for specials, such as the airing of Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game.
The addition of Costas gives MLB Network a large dose of credibility. He had been approached in the past to do baseball, but only in limited capacity – play-by-play, or studio host – not the broad range of freedoms that MLB Network has apparently offered him.
The 29-year veteran of NBC Sports addressed the media Tuesday afternoon, and seemed excited about joining the new network where he will lend his ideas to the creative process in terms of programming.
“Baseball has always been my favorite sport,” said Costas. “I enjoy everything I do. I love the Olympics. I have a great time with the Super Bowl, I mean; you can’t beat that kind of sports drama. But, on a day-in-and-day-out basis, baseball has always been the sport that I have followed most closely, and perhaps the one that people associate me with most.”
Costas will keep his responsibilities with NBC and said that his role at MLB Network will not influence his schedule with the Peacock Network. Although he heaped an incredible amount of praise upon HBO, he will be leaving the network citing the cable channel’s insistence that Costas would need to remain an exclusive to HBO.
“Everything I did with HBO was so satisfying and I loved every minute of it there,” Costas said. “When this process started [with MLB Network], I was interested in adding a reasonable number of assignments with MLB Network to the half-dozen or so “Costas Now”s for HBO. But, HBO said that the one thing we insist upon is cable exclusivity. When I considered those five or six things a year, against the range of things I could do with MLB Network and the fact that it is an exciting beginning network, and I'll have such a promiment place there... I'm not saying it was an easy decsion, but I think in the end it was the right decision."
Costas now finds himself now being employed by a league-based network, raising questions as to whether he would be given free reign to apply a critical eye to MLB in areas such as the issue of steroids, collective bargaining, or matters such as the recent news of Selig’s large salary. Costas said it was one of the first questions he had, and that from the start, both MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti and Commissioner Selig said he would be allowed to be critical of his new employers.
“The understanding I have is that I am free to make any comment that I deem appropriate, and that's what I intend to do,” Costas said.
As to what type of shows Costas will be involved in, he still plans on doing retrospective pieces, such as Larsen’s perfect game, but also more topical pieces, such as his interview with Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Joe Torre for a new one hour program titled, MLB Network Studio 42 with Bob Costas that is scheduled to air in its entirety on Thursday. He also will be doing play-by-play for some of the 26 games that MLB Network will broadcast over the course of the season, mostly on Thursdays. And, he said that he might do some “quirky” programming such as getting celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, and Chris Rock together to ask them why they love baseball so much.
What is clear is that by adding Costas to the mix, MLB Network’s programming lineup will quickly diversify. Instead of just studio shows such as MLB Tonight or Hot Stove, where the host works with a panel of former players, the limited number of games and retrospective pieces that will air with Costas will be seasoned with a commanding network presence. Costas will be able to bring his clout and connections into the new network, which should allow for more broad-reaching content. Will Costas tackle all aspects of baseball? It seems unlikely. There is still a need for baseball’s new breed of journalism to make its way to MLBN -- the Joe Sheehans of the baseball world. Still, Costas is a significant addition to a league-based channel, something other leagues have yet to pull off with an on-air personality of such stature. Between MLBN being the largest cable channel launch in history, and now the addition of Costas, MLB Network seems to be charting toward further growth right out of the gate.
(Read the Bob Costas interview with The Biz of Baseball)
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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