Nationals, Orioles to meet in December over MASN dispute


Ed Cohen, above with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, right, during spring training, has represented the team’s ownership in its battle over TV rights fees. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)

The legal battle over Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and the Nationals’ television rights will drag on for, at least, another three months. MASN, which is majority-controlled by the Orioles, and the Orioles have until Sept. 23 to file an amended petition in New York Supreme Court in their ongoing court case.

The Nationals and Major League Baseball have until Oct. 20 to file a cross petition disputing the other side’s claims. Reply briefs are due in late November. All sides will meet before Judge Lawrence Marks for a hearing on Dec. 15. The issues involved in the case are complicated, and Marks has allowed both sides ample time to prepare and for him to review the arguments.

Marks has granted MASN and the Orioles a preliminary injunction in mid-August against MLB and the Nationals, a significant early victory in the legal battle over the Nationals’ television rights fees. Marks raised concerns about conflicts of interest in an MLB panel that ruled the Nationals should receive higher television rights fees, which MASN and the Orioles have disagreed with.

The amended petition to be filed later this month by MASN and the Orioles will make the case for vacating the MLB panel’s award, which was closer to the Orioles’ proposed rights fee ($40 million) than what the Nationals requested ($118 million).

The preliminary injunction prevents the Nationals from terminating MASN’s license to broadcast their games, a threat made to force the network to pay the money owed under a disputed ruling by the MLB panel. Marks’s ruling means MLB cannot force MASN to pay those higher rights. Things will remain as they are until the court can review the entire process.

In order to keep things as they are, MASN was ordered to post a $20 million bond, the remaining amount owed to the Nationals this year under the MLB panel’s ruling. If the panel’s ruling is ultimately vacated and the Orioles don’t have to pay the higher rights fees, the Nationals would repay the $20 million with interest.

Meanwhile, MASN, the Orioles and Nationals were in the early stages of having their dispute heard by an American Arbitration Association panel. But, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, that arbitration process has been put on hold pending the outcome of the legal process.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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