Bud Selig involved in MASN dispute talks, still no resolution in sight

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, center, is flanked by Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner in late 2011. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, center, is flanked by Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner in late 2011. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is directly involved in ongoing talks between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals about the two teams’ longstanding dispute over the value of the Nationals’ television rights fees. According to one person directly involved in the negotiations but who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, proposals have been discussed but there is “no imminent solution.”

The Orioles and Nationals teams have been deadlocked on the issue for over a year and a half, since the end of the 2011 season, the first opportunity the Nationals could negotiate for higher broadcast rights fees paid by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. MASN is the regional sports network that televises both Nationals and Orioles games but is controlled primarily by the Orioles  and owner Pete Angelos.

“I’m involved but we’ve had a lot of meetings,” said Selig during a press conference at MLB’s headquarters in New York on Thursday on the final day of the quarterly owners meetings. “We’ll continue.”

When MLB relocated the Montreal Expos franchise to Washington in 2005 and created the Nationals, it gave Angelos and his sports network the rights to broadcast Nationals games.

After neither team could agree on the value of the Nationals’ 2012 rights fee, a committee of baseball executives, which includes representatives from the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets, took up the dispute. But no progress has been made. Selig and a top lieutenant, executive vice president of economics and league affairs Rob Manfred, have been directly involved in discussions. Manfred oversees the committee. According to the person familiar with the negotiations, there have been direct discussions with both teams’ owners involving Selig and Manfred.

Last summer, Selig expressed frustration with the slowness of the negotiations, calling the negotiations “very intense discussions.” Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, has called for a quick resolution to the issue.

The Nationals have asked for between $100 million and $120 million per year, far more than the $29 million they received in the 2011 season. They have sought to enjoy the same skyrocketing size increases in television rights as other teams, particularly those also in the top 10 markets. MASN and the Orioles proposed paying Washington $34 million for the 2012 season, arguing that their proposal extrapolated over the next 20 years totaled over $2 billion including the increasing equity stakes.

The Nationals’ stake in MASN increased to 14 percent this season. Based on the proposal of MASN and the Orioles, the rights fee amount would increase to just under $37 million in 2013 with an equity stake payment of $8 million. But if the Nationals receive closer to the amount they requested, it would boost their bottom line, increase their value and potentially  spending.

Proposals have been made but fizzled, according to the person familiar with the negotiations. There also hasn’t been any progress with potential creative solutions to the dispute, such as last winter when MLB asked a private investment bank to seek buyers for the network.

>>> At the meetings in New York this week, owners were briefed on bringing more instant replay into the game. No action was taken but executive vice president Joe Torre said the league is “hopeful” some form of increased instant replay will be implemented for the 2014 season but couldn’t yet commit to it. The current system only covers home runs. “It’s still a work in progress,” he said.

The league has tested various systems, such as reviewing fair/foul balls, tag plays, trapped catches, an umpire solely responsible for replays and a manager challenge rule. Torre said ball and strike calls are off limits to instant replay. Two recent high-profile umpiring miscues brought more attention to the expansion of instant replay.

>>> Selig also declined to address the ongoing investigation regarding the South Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, which was linked to performance-enhancing drugs by several news reports to several major league players, including Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Gio Gonzalez.

“That’s not a subject we’re going to discuss today,” Selig said. “That’s an ongoing investigation any comment from me at this point in time would be inappropriate.”

The league still plans on interviewing the players named in the reports, including Gonzalez.

>>> Manfred said there are “active discussions” with the players union regarding an international draft ahead of the June 1 deadline.

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