While Major League Baseball is still sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic, real baseball is being played in South Korea. And American sports fans can watch it thanks to ESPN, which has struck a deal to televise six weekly KBO games. The season kicked off Tuesday with an opening-day telecast of a game between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions. It was ESPN’s first regular-season KBO game since the coronavirus outbreak.
It will televise six games per week from the 10-team league. The network has a US rights deal with the Korea Baseball Organization’s international sales partner, Eclat Media Group. ESPN will also air highlights as part of its news output, including slots on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt. The agreement covers the 2020 regular season, plus postseason matches and the Korea Series best-of-seven championship.
The deal is a big step for ESPN, which is seeking to fill a significant gap in its lineup while MLB and other pro and college sports remain sidelined. It has a long history of airing foreign and minor league games, but this is the first time it has secured rights to a professional league.
The move also makes sense for ESPN, which is attempting to find new ways to engage viewers with its broadcasts. Its studio teams and commentators have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, and it has created a committee to evaluate options for on-air talent and crew to produce live shows from remote locations. In its quest to keep fans engaged, the network has already experimented with augmented reality and other virtual production elements.
ESPN’s first regular-season KBO telecast was broadcast Tuesday, but it will also air five more games this week, on Wednesdays through Fridays and Saturdays. The network will also air the league’s annual All-Star game.
Unlike many major league games, which are packed with fans, most KBO matches feature sparse crowds. However, the league has worked hard to bolster support for its teams, especially with a number of high-profile foreign players on the rosters. The Doosan Bears, a Seoul-based team that features several MLB alums, streamed an intrasquad game last weekend on YouTube in partnership with local news site Spocado. The video featured most of the features of a live TV broadcast, such as a play-by-play voice and color analyst in the booth, instant replay and graphics.
Those in the US who want to watch the games will need to get up early or stay up late, as KBO is 13-16 hours ahead of Eastern time. One way to do that is by using a virtual private network, or VPN. Some of the top picks include ExpressVPN, which offers reliable performance and responsive customer support. A year’s worth of service costs $120, or about $10 a month. Another option is Hulu with Live TV, which offers a $55-a-month package that includes ESPN and ESPN2. It also has an optional $15-a-month sports tier that adds Fox Sports channels. 한국야구실시간