The Washington Nationals deserve a better TV deal


Now that the Washington Nationals have reached the five-year point in their deal with MASN, it is time for a more equitable distribution of rights fees. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals have reached the five-year point in their one-sided and ridiculous deal with MASN, meaning that under the agreement, they can renegotiate with Baltimore Orioles and MASN owner Peter Angelos over their share of rights fees.

The five-year “re-set” was included in the deal to make sure the split still falls within fair market value. The Nats earned $29 million from the deal last year, according to several reports. The Nats hope to double or triple that amount in this “re-set” and have hired consultant Chris Bevilacqua to represent them in negotiations.

The money is obviously important to the Nats, particularly if it trickles down to payroll. There is no reason to believe at least some of it wouldn’t, given last year’s acquisition of Jayson Werth. Forget for a moment the success of that deal; that the team was willing to shell out big money was a sign that management is ready to mix in some free agents with all the young draft picks.

Bevilacqua negotiated a deal for the Rangers for $1.6 billion over 20 years, and he’ll use that deal and other recent regional deals to try to leverage a better cut for the Nationals. These regional television deals are becoming increasingly important to a team’s coffers, and the Nats don’t want to be left behind. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the issue will go to arbitration.

There’s no question Washington got the short end of the television stick when the Expos relocated here in 2005. To placate the volatile Orioles owner, MLB gave him 90 percent of MASN. The Nats got the other 10 percent. Each year their share grows, but slowly. They have about 13 percent now. The Nats will top out at 33 percent.

It seems unbelievable that anyone would agree to such a deal — and unbelievable that any league would hamstring one of its own teams with such a deal — but there it is. And that part of the deal is not up for renegotiation.

Obviously, the money is the main issue and should and will be the focus of these negotiations. But Nats fans have complained that MASN has a definite Baltimore flavor and would like to see more of a division between the two teams on the network. That would seem to be a fair request. One place to start: Stop shuffling both teams between MASN and MASN2. That would actually benefit the Orioles as well as the Nationals.

The scheduling made sense in the beginning, sort of — for MASN’s purposes, anyway. The “best” games — the games MASN deems would get the best ratings — are shown on MASN. So Orioles-Yankees are on MASN and Nats-Padres are on MASN2. But that made the assumption that local fans would tune into the “best” game and not the game in which “their” team was playing.

Seven seasons later, the region has divided itself into Nats fans, O’s fans (and some who like both or have no strong allegiance either way). So why not have a Nats channel and an O’s channel? Call them MASN-O and MASN-N. Heck, I don’t think a lot of Nats fans would care if they remained MASN and MASN2 and the Nats were on MASN2 — as long as they knew where the Nats were every night and as long as both channels are available to everyone. According to MASN’s Web site, if your satellite or cable provider offers MASN, it offers MASN2 (although you might not have either or both in HD).

It’s a small thing, and the Nats should sacrifice a penny in order to get it. But both the Nats and the O’s deserve their own channels. These strange bedfellows at least ought to have their own bunks.

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