As the legal battle over the Nationals’ television rights fees from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network continues, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday that the Nationals and Orioles are “having actual constructive dialogue.” MASN is majority-controlled by the Orioles.
The Nationals and Orioles have been deadlocked in a dispute for years over the value of the Nationals’ television rights fees. On June 30, a Major League Baseball arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Nationals, a process the Orioles and MASN have described in court as corrupt. Last week, the Orioles scored a preliminary legal victory when a New York court temporarily ruled MLB cannot take further action against MASN and the Orioles in regard to the arbitration panel’s decision.
Selig was in Baltimore this week for owners meetings, which are slated to feature a vote on Thursday to appoint his successor. Selig met with reporters on Tuesday afternoon and was mostly mum about the MASN dispute. His comments were muted and optimistic, but he did admit that he prefers to avoid fights between teams. Echoing his comments from July, he said he hopes the MASN dispute is resolved by January 2015, his final month in office as commissioner after more than 22 years in charge.
“I think it’s an important goal before I step down,” said Selig, seated in front of Orioles and MASN signage in a news conference room at Camden Yards. “Look, we’ve tried. We’ve tried very hard. We’ll continue to try. One of the great problems in baseball for many decades before I took over there was a lot of infighting. Everybody knew it. It’s no secret. I’m not telling you anything new. I think it’s one of the things that held the sport back so I preached peace and calm and quiet and labor peace and everything else. So yes, I like to avoid this situation but we’ll just keep on working. … There have been many possible solutions discussed. And we’re going to keep at it.”
The Nationals and Orioles have squabbled over revenue from MASN since the Nationals moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005. Orioles Owner Peter Angelos opposed the relocation because he said it cut into his regional television territorial rights. MLB appeased him with a unique arrangement. He would own a share of the Nationals’ television rights through a regional sports network that broadcast both teams’ games.
Under the terms of the arrangement, the Nationals started with a 5 percent ownership stake in MASN. It has grown to 15 percent and will increase by 1 percent each year until the Nationals own 30 percent. Every five years, there would be a “reset” period allowing the Nationals to receive rights fees commensurate with the formula in the contract.
By fall 2011, the first “reset” period, television rights fees for professional sports teams had exploded. The Nationals and Orioles entered into a bitter dispute over how much MASN owed the Nationals. As of 2012, the Orioles proposed giving the Nationals $34 million in rights fees from MASN; the Nationals asked for between $100 million and $120 million.
The Orioles have argued the Nationals should honor the contract because the 2005 agreement calls for the use of a rights fee formula developed by Colorado-based consulting firm Bortz Media & Sports Group. The agreement also states the rights fees for the Nationals and Orioles are to be the same, which could affect the viability of MASN if the arbitration ruling is enforced. If MLB’s arbitration panel’s ruling stands, MASN has argued it could collapse.
“I’m not concerned about either franchises’ viability,” Selig said. “Or MASN.”
The New York court enjoined both the Nationals and MLB, the first step in challenging the MLB arbitration panel’s ruling. It is believed to be the first time MLB has been enjoined. The league has said it was not enjoined.
The temporary court order will remain until Aug. 18 unless an agreement is reached sooner outside the court.
According to e-mails obtained by the Hollywood Reporter in a July 29 report, Selig excoriated both owners and threatened to use the full extent of his powers if they dragged the issue to open court. Now that the dispute between the teams has reached the legal system, Selig was asked Tuesday if he was still considering sanctions.
“I don’t want to discuss my correspondence with the clubs,” he said. “They know what the rules are and I know what the rules are.”
Selig said Tuesday he hadn’t yet met with Angelos but noted that their relationship is “excellent” and will visit with him soon.
“MASN is an inter-club dispute,” Selig said. “When you’re the commissioner, you hope these things don’t happen. But you’re going to have inter-club disputes. The next person is going to have inter-club disputes, and the person after him or her is going to have inter-club disputes. My relationship with Mr. Angelos is good. He’s on the [Major League] Executive Council, and I have no problem with him at all. In fact, [he's] one of the reasons we’re here.”
Selig also addressed the possibility of an all-star game being awarded to Washington. He again said Nationals Park is a “very viable candidate,” along with Baltimore. He said the MASN fight will “absolutely not” have a connection with him awarding an all-star game to either team.
“I like to take the all-star games where they’re meaningful, where the franchises deserve them, where the fans deserve them,” Selig said. “And if I let off the field stuff enter into it, I never have and I wouldn’t do that here.”
The soonest the Nationals could host an all-star game is 2017. Selig has awarded the game to teams with new stadiums and generally has alternated between American and National League sites. The Minnesota Twins hosted this year’s all-star game, and the Cincinnati Reds will play host next season.
The Nationals could face stiff competition for the 2017 All-Star Game. Selig single-handedly awards the games and has said he hopes to dole out a handful of all-star games before he leaves office. San Diego, Miami and Philadelphia have yet to host the game in their new ballparks, and the Dodgers haven’t held it in 34 years. (The Phillies are waiting to bid for the 2026 All-Star Game to commemorate when America turns 250.)
The Orioles last hosted an all-star game in 1993, and the Nationals have never hosted one. Although it seems unlikely, Selig said he would have no issue awarding all-star games to Baltimore and Washington in consecutive years. “Nothing in the constitution that would forbid that I don’t believe,” he said.