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WTTG Would Air Nats Games

Agreement Is Part of Unfinished Compensation Package to Angelos

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page D01

A substantial portion of Washington Nationals games this season would be televised on WTTG-5, the local Fox network affiliate, once a compensation agreement is reached between Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles, according to sources.

The television deal is part of an overall financial package that is being negotiated between baseball and the Orioles as a way to compensate the Baltimore club for the financial impact of moving the Nationals to Washington, just 40 miles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The agreement had not been finalized as of last night, with several minor issues still unresolved, according to sources.

Several minor issues remain unresolved in the financial compensation agreement between Major League Baseball and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, shown leaving talks last week. (Gregory Bull -- AP)

"The process has not yet fully run its entire course," said Alan Rifkin, an attorney for Orioles owner Peter Angelos. "Specifics are still being finalized. I am optimistic. To be fair, there is work to be done."

Duffy Dyer, vice president and general manager of WTTG and WDCA-20, the local UPN network affiliate, said he could not comment on whether the station was going to broadcast Nationals games.

The agreement calls for the rest of the Nationals games to be broadcast to the Washington audience on channels carried by satellite and cable television, according to sources. The breakdown of how the games would be divided could not be learned, but sources said "there is a substantial over-the-air component" in the agreement.

The Nationals' season opener is Monday in Philadelphia.

The television deal is the last loose end remaining in the financial compensation package, which has required more than six months of intense negotiations between MLB President Robert DuPuy and Angelos. The talks began last September when MLB announced it would move the Montreal Expos to the District after the city agreed to build baseball a $535 million stadium complex on the banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

Angelos and DuPuy could not be reached to comment last night.

The deal also includes a guarantee that Angelos would fetch at least $365 million if he sold the Orioles; baseball would make up the difference should the sale not approach that number.

The Orioles estimate that the team will lose $30 million in ticket sales, concessions, advertising and parking revenue because of the Nationals' arrival in the Washington market.

The negotiations between Angelos and baseball bogged down over which team would control the potentially lucrative Baltimore-Washington television market, which runs from Pennsylvania to the Virginia-North Carolina border, and from West Virginia to Delaware. The Baltimore-Washington market is one of the largest in the country, and its potential television revenue could have a huge impact on the financial health of both franchises.

Angelos acquired the broadcast rights to the Baltimore-Washington region when he bought the Baltimore club for $173 million in 1993, and wanted to retain control of those rights through an Orioles-owned regional sports network.

Baseball had been reluctant to unilaterally redistrict the Orioles' broadcast region, fearing a messy lawsuit by Angelos, who made a fortune as one of the nation's most successful trial lawyers. Top baseball officials believe they would have ultimately prevailed in a suit by Angelos, but had been trying to avoid it nevertheless.

The Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, were purchased by baseball's 29 owners from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002. Baseball is in the initial stages of selling the team, and representatives of several ownership groups have begun to review the team's financial records at MLB headquarters in New York. Baseball is hoping to earn at least $300 million or $350 million from the sale of the Nationals.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company