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Business Is Biggest Winner on Baseball's Opening Day

Baseball fans have been waiting for the umpires' cry of "Play Ball!" since October, but it's the corporate sponsors, stadium concession operators and media companies that broadcast the games that stand to benefit the most from Opening Day.

ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney, will air Major League Baseball games throughout the season on its main channel and ESPN2. ESPN signed an eight-year contract worth $2.37 billion with Major League Baseball in September 2005.

News Corp.'s Fox will show double- and triple-headers on Saturdays throughout the year. Time Warner's TBS station will carry national telecasts of Atlanta Braves games. Contracts with Fox and TBS that run through 2013 and are worth more than $3 billion were inked in November.

The league and DirecTV Group have also paired up, with the satellite television operator set to broadcast the league's "Extra Innings" out-of-market package in a $700 million, seven-year deal. DirecTV will also begin airing league's 24-hour Baseball Channel when it launches in 2009. Congress held hearings about the deal, and other cable operators have complained that it is unfair to fans who were previously able to get the package through cable.

XM Satellite Radio Holdings, the official satellite radio network of the league, has a 24-hour baseball channel, MLB Home Plate. The $650 million deal runs through 2015.

Companies both public and private have deals with each of the 30 teams.

Fans who go to games, for example, may leave their cars with Central Parking, which operates parking facilities at a number of ballparks, including Baltimore's Camden Yards, New York's Yankee and Shea stadiums, Denver's Coors Field and Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.

And they'll find plenty of sponsors on the way to the park: Chevrolet, a division of GeneralMotors, makes the league's official vehicle.

Patrons could be buying hot dogs and Cracker Jack from Centerplate, which also serves up the garlic fries at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants. Most parks serve drinks made by PepsiCo, which makes the official soft drink of the league, and Anheuser-Busch, maker of the official beer, Budweiser.

In a bit of related news, Tribune said Monday it will sell the Chicago Cubs as part of the $8.2 billion buyout deal it accepted from billionaire investor Sam Zell. The owner of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers and TV stations said it will put the team on the block at the end of the season.

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