NEW YORK (AP) – ESPN will start a series of Monday night baseball broadcasts and gain greater flexibility to move games to Sunday nights under a new eight-year contract worth $2.368 billion.

The agreement announced Wednesday, which runs through 2013, allows the network to have a team appear on its exclusive Sunday night games up to five times per season, up from 11 over a three-season span under the six-year contract that is expiring.

Baseball is getting $200 million from ESPN in the final season of its current deal, which was worth about $815 million for its television component and was a product of a lawsuit settlement.

The sport will average $296 million under the new agreement, a television and a baseball official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement in the deal. Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN will pay baseball $273.5 million in 2006, $293.5 million in each of the following four years, $308.5 million in 2011 and $306 million in each of the final two seasons.

“You worry about oversaturation, but this is a sport that its fans follow and live on a day-by-day basis,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “I do not worry that this will produce a glut.”

The sport’s six-year contract with FOX, which runs through 2006 and covers the regular season, All-Star game and postseason, is worth about $2.5 billion. In addition, Selig and his staff have been planning to launch baseball’s own cable network next year.

“I don’t regard the channel in any way shape of form as competitive,” Selig said. “I regard it as an additional complement to everything else we’ve done.”

Baseball has substantially increased its media income. It is in the first year of a six-year contract with ESPN radio that averages $11 million, a six-year Internet deal with ESPN that averages $30 million and an 11-year agreement with XM satellite radio that averages $60 million.

ESPN’s Monday and Wednesday telecasts will be mostly nonexclusive, meaning the games also can be televised by each club’s local broadcasters. The Sunday games remain on ESPN only, with games shifted to ESPN2 when the NFL season starts each September.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa had complained when his team’s game was shifted to Sunday night before the All-Star break.

“I know there’s been grumbling, but not much,” Selig said. “I think overall this deal really doesn’t increase that level to any degree that one would worry about.”

ESPN can televise up to 80 games per season, including an Sunday night season opener and an opening-day package the following day. It also gets 10 spring training games a year and the All-Star Home Run Derby, the network’s top-rated summer broadcast. In addition,

ESPN will start a batting-practice show prior to its Monday night games and has the right to transmit games over new technology, such as broadband and the video phone service it plans to launch next year.

“We’ve acquired wide-ranging rights to fuel all of the multimedia business of ESPN that today number over a dozen and will continue to grow,” ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said.

Baseball also is talking to ESPN about rights for the World Baseball Classic that is starting in March, but rights to that 16-team tournament were not part of the agreement.

Under the current contract, ESPN televised a Wednesday doubleheader and the Sunday night games. It will no longer broadcast day games on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

ESPN also has one season remaining on its contract to televise games during the first round of the playoffs and the two-game-a-week deal it inherited when The Walt Disney Co., its parent company, purchased the Fox Family network.

ESPN takes over NFL “Monday Night Football” games from sister network ABC starting in 2006.

Major League Baseball has been on ESPN since 1990 and ESPN2 since 1996.

ESPN will pick the first two months of its Sunday schedule during the offseason, then must give three weeks notice to move games in the June and July and two weeks notice in the final two months of each season.

AP-ES-09-14-05 1624EDT

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