MASN didn’t agree, so a three-team MLB committee on revenue-fairness issues has heard arguments from the two sides for months. This internal MLB group is due to give its opinion on a fair market price for the Nats’ regional television rights June 1.
That date, just two weeks away, should be circled in red with stars and exclamation points all around it. What those MLB representatives (from the Rays, Pirates and Mets) endorse — whether it is $60 million or $100 million or likely a number in between — should be the figure that carries the day.
For a Nats franchise with the lowest payroll in the National League East — $81 million compared with an average of $117 million for its four division rivals and less than half that of the Phillies — the MASN reset will be transformational.
This weekend, the spring surprise Baltimore Orioles (26-14) and Nats (23-16) are meeting at Nationals Park and should make for unprecedented Beltway Battle TV viewing for MASN. However, those games are of tiny long-term importance compared with the far larger stakes involved in this backroom baseball brawl.
One man with a motive to delay, or lowball the Nats, is Angelos, who owns MASN and the Orioles. Some in baseball believe, as I do, that MASN delay tactics already have ripped off the Nats. This issue should have been decided by last November, so the Nats could have incorporated accurate info on new revenue in pursuit of free agents such as Prince Fielder.
In 2004, Angelos blustered and bullied MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig into giving MASN 90 percent of the Nats’ TV rights as compensation for mythical “territorial rights” to Washington, a metropolitan area twice the size of Baltimore. Will Angelos push baseball into another craven sellout? In the era of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, those days should be long past.
“When we have an internal dispute between clubs, I can’t comment on it substantively,” Selig said Wednesday after an owners meeting at which the MASN-Nats arm-wrestling was discussed.
Will the June 1 date for a “fairness” valuation actually precipitate a resolution? “In cases like this, I never hold people to a specific date,” said Selig, famous for flexible, infuriating but generally functional timetables.
Are there creative options for the Nats and MASN? Sure. For example, the Nats’ equity in MASN is scheduled to rise from the original 10 percent to 33 percent over many years — it’s currently at 13 percent — so could that timetable be accelerated? After all, teams have two cable-TV revenue streams: their rights fee and their equity in the entire regional sports network, which broadcasts many teams in several sports.