MLB panel issues sealed decision in Orioles-Nats TV dispute
Stephen R. Neuwirth, a lawyer for the Nationals, filed a motion in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan on April 15 asking the court to confirm the arbitration decision issued by baseball’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee. While the decision is known to the parties, Neuwirth asked for the court to allow the decision to be submitted under seal.
In 2012, an RSDC that included Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon ruled the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is controlled by the Orioles, owed the Nationals $298 million for the team’s 2012-16 television rights.
The Orioles sued, and the RSDC decision was thrown out by a New York Supreme Court justice in 2015. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division voted 3-2 in 2017 to send the decision back to the RSDC, which reheard the case last November with a reconstituted panel that included Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather and Toronto Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro.
MASN was established in March 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The Orioles were given a supermajority partnership interest in MASN, starting at 90 percent, and Washington made a $75 million payment to the network for an initial 10 percent stake.
The agreement called for the Nationals’ equity to increase 1 percent annually, starting after the 2009 season, with a cap of 33 percent. The network’s rights payments to each team were set at $20 million apiece in 2005 and 2006, rising to $25 million in 2007, with $1 million annual increases through 2011.
Separately, a different New York judge ruled this month that the American Arbitration Association should rule whether Commissioner Rob Manfred can decide the Nationals’ claim that MASN failed to distribute cash to Washington last year.