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Report: ESPN, KBO close to deal to air South Korean baseball games

An employee of LG Twins watches their intra-team game which is played to be broadcasted online for their fans at a stadium emptied due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seoul, South Korea, April 2, 2020. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

Hopefully, Major League Baseball fans are in the business of consolation prizes. 

While America’s Pasttime is frozen due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jee-ho Yoo and Chang-yong Shin of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday that ESPN and the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) are nearing a deal to broadcast games in the United States.

The prospective deal could see ESPN — the country’s largest sports television network — air multiple KBO games per week while North American sports still try to figure out a way to safely and effectively return to action. 

South Korea’s KBO, a 10-team league which began in 1982, is slated to begin on May 5. The season was originally scheduled to start on March 28, but the coronavirus outbreak forced them — like most other major professional sporting leagues — to pause play. 

But successful steps taken to implement testing and cut off the spread of the virus has seen positive cases drop to fewer than 50 per day since April 8. 

The KBO will be the second prominent baseball league to return to action behind the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan. 

Per Yonhap’s report, the developments between ESPN and the KBO provided a drastic change in proceedings. Last week, it was believed the deal was nearly dead after ESPN demanded “free games,” from Eclat, which oversees the international distribution of KBO games.

ESPN was also “seeking monthly deals, rather than a longer deal that would cover the whole 2020 season,” providing an easy way to drop KBO coverage once MLB returns. The Yonhap report noted that ESPN’s stance on the matter has changed, though nothing is official as of yet.

Since 2015, the KBO season is 144 games long after the addition of its 10th team, KT Wiz. 

Major League Baseball was originally supposed to start on March 26, but the dramatic outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic made the United States an epicenter of the disease, with no concrete return of professional sports in sight. 

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