Commissioner predicts resolution in Orioles-Nationals TV dispute
New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred predicts an end to the long-running dispute between the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles over payments to Washington from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which the teams co-own.
During a tour of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy on Wednesday, Manfred also suggested both clubs could host All-Star Games in the near future.
MASN was established in a settlement agreement when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season, moving into what had been Baltimore's exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The Orioles were given a supermajority partnership interest in MASN, and the network's rights payments to the Nationals were set at $20 million to $29 million a year through 2011.
After that, the network was to pay fair market value. The sides have spent years squabbling over what that means. A trial in New York Supreme Court is scheduled for May 18.
"I'm not going to say a lot about MASN because it is in litigation," said Manfred, who took over from Bud Selig on Jan. 25. "I will say this much. I think in reasonably short order, there will be a resolution of MASN, either by the litigation being done or some other mechanism."
When the teams couldn't agree on what the Nats' rights fees should be, they appeared before MLB's Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee: Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly, New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
The committee ruled last June 30 that MASN should pay the Nationals about $298 million from 2012-16, an average of just under $60 million -- or approximately $20 million a year more than the current rights fee. When MASN didn't comply with the arbitration award, the Nationals attempted to end the rights agreement.
TCR Sports Broadcasting, MASN's corporate entity, sued the Nationals and MLB, claiming the arbitration should be vacated became it was marred by "abuses and deficiencies." TCR claimed the same law firm, Proskauer Rose, represented MLB and the teams of all three arbitrators.
Justice Lawrence Marks last August enjoined the Nationals from terminating the rights deal while the court case proceeds.
Both teams hope to host All-Star Games in the near future. The Orioles lasted hosted in 1993 at Camden Yards, and there hasn't been one in Washington since 1969.
Baltimore bid for 2016, which Selig awarded last month to San Diego, breaking up the usual rotation among the leagues. The Nationals hope to host in 2017.
"We think of Baltimore and Washington as separate franchises, separate cities," Manfred said, "And I don't think having an All-Star Game in one would be a disqualifying or hindering factor for the other."
While touring the academy, a community outreach endeavor that serves mostly low-income black students in the Fort Dupont neighborhood, Manfred said a pillar of his tenure would be attracting more children as players and fans.
That could include revisiting the start time for World Series games, which usually has been after 8 p.m. Eastern time.
"Late start times are an issue with young people," Manfred said. "We try to pay attention to that, and it has to be balanced against the needs of our broadcast partners that are part of the engine that make the game run, so it is an issue. It's something we think about all the time."