The Boston Marathon wants to increase its visibility, so it’s switching channels.
WCVB (Channel 5) and ESPN will begin broadcasting the race with the 127th running next April 17, ending the Boston Athletic Association’s exclusive media rights deal with WBZ that began in 2007.
In a deal that will run for at least five years, ESPN will air the event live across the nation on its flagship channel from 8:30 a.m. through 1 p.m., while WCVB will begin its regional coverage at 4 in the morning and stay with the event until 8 in the evening.
Other New England stations in Manchester, N.H. (WMUR), Portland-Auburn, Maine (WMTW), and Burlington, Vermont (WPTZ) will simulcast WCVB’s broadcast, with the race also to be live-streamed on Very Local Boston.
The opportunity to have a national/local broadcast tandem in WCVB and ESPN — similar to what the New City Marathon has in place with its local ABC affiliate and ESPN — was central to BAA’s wish list when the WBZ deal ended after this April’s race.
“We were looking at renewal and we started to look at reach and just what would be the optimal scenario, and that began to bring in the domestic aspect of it,” said Jack Fleming, acting CEO of the BAA. “When we were able to find the enthusiasm and opportunity with ESPN and WCVB, that really was not something that we were able to have in recent past years.
“This is really as much about the big picture as it is about the importance of the local and the community. This brings it all together.”
Terms of the new deal, which Fleming described as “fantastic” for the BAA, were not disclosed.
“I can only say that this is the most significant broadcast arrangement in Boston Marathon history,” he said.
Both ABC and ESPN are owned by Disney.
As part of the new deal, WCVB will broadcast and live-stream other BAA events, including this Sunday’s BAA 10K, the BAA 5K, and the BAA Half Marathon.
“WCVB has a proud history of covering the market’s marquee events, and the Boston Marathon is the perfect addition to Channel 5′s signature, local programming,” said Kyle Grimes, WCVB president/general manager, in a statement.
“We also look forward to working with the BAA year-round to highlight their many other athletic events as well as the great work they do in the community.”
Said Burke Magnus, president of programming and original content at ESPN, “The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s most recognizable and best-known sporting events, and we’re proud to be able to bring it to ESPN viewers for years to come. We look forward to working with the BAA and WCVB to present the stories and athletic achievements of this classic race.”
Justin Draper, president and GM of WBZ, said, “WBZ is thankful for our partnership with the BAA for the last 16 years. Our team was dedicated and committed to providing the highest-quality broadcast each and every year.”
Fleming expressed his gratitude for the longstanding relationship between the BAA and WBZ.
“There’s no question that we are very appreciative of not only the decades that we were on and with WBZ,” he said, “but all of the people and staff and personnel from all across WBZ over the decades.”
Local broadcasters, including WBZ, were made aware of the BAA’s desire to include a domestic broadcaster in its next media deal, said Fleming, who said there was “great interest” among outlets.
“This was clearly the best arrangement for the local and national alignment because they fit together,” said Fleming of WCVB and ESPN. “In the past, we had an excellent local arrangement and very good domestic but when we were able to be in a position to express what the optimum scenario is for the Boston Marathon, then this was clear.”
Before WBZ’s first of four exclusive deals was struck 22 years ago, multiple local outlets covered the Boston Marathon.
ESPN used to cover the race beginning in the early 1980s and then again from 1997 through 2004.
Between 1982 and 2006, WCVB covered the marathon as well.
In terms of differences viewers might see and hear, Fleming expects “there will be an infusion of fresh and innovative coverage, because both WCVB and ESPN bring different assets to bear from their experiences that we’ve never seen before.
“No one’s interested in doing the same-old-same-old, everyone is interested in better ways to cover the main race and also to promote the sport of running. Ultimately, for the end user here, there will be greater exposure and a broader set of coverage methods.”