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Angelos May Have Won, But Nationals Can't Lose

"Oh, no question. That's the correct interpretation," said one source close to the negotiations. "The collateral damage that Peter might have done to the sport in court just wasn't a risk worth taking."

Angelos's bare-knuckles legal reputation, as well as his deep knowledge of many baseball business transactions in the last dozen years, preceded him like a brass band. He didn't have to threaten. Baseball bosses simply imagined the Al Davis-like havoc he could wreak if he found a way to make public the details of controversial loans made by baseball to its owners or the machinations behind several stadium deals that somehow passed state legislatures by narrow votes in the wee morning hours.

Some owners, annoyed at Angelos's sweetheart deal, which includes a guaranteed minimum sale price of $365 million for the Orioles, argued with Selig that Angelos would never actually sue baseball. So why all the fretting?

"Bullying and suing is what Angelos does for a living," said one influential baseball source who ultimately sided with those who preferred to placate the Orioles owner. "Why would he stop at baseball?"

From the Orioles' perspective, it may prove lucky that Angelos got most of the items on his wish list because the Nationals may soon have a larger revenue base than the Orioles.

While a team may make money from a profitable regional sports network, the bulk of its TV revenues are far more likely to come from its plain vanilla TV rights fees. According to industry sources, the Orioles currently receive $16 million to $17 million a year in such fees. The Nationals will be guaranteed $20 million to $21 million by MLB in '05.

Guaranteed is the key word. "Under this agreement, the Nationals will be the only team in baseball that is guaranteed a fair-market price for its TV rights. The price will be reset every five years," said a source with knowledge of the deal. The new rights fee would not be influenced by Angelos, but rather would be determined by the three-member Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee. To simplify: That's Bud's stacked jury, not Peter's.

The Orioles claim ticket sales are down 12 percent this season. If that number is accurate, it translates into about an $8 million drop in Orioles' revenue in '05. Even if that number is too high, it still shows why Angelos fought so desperately to get a bigger slice of Mid-Atlantic Sports. So, don't be too quick to begrudge Angelos his perhaps undeserved "regional" profits.

In a properly organized universe, no such foolishness would ever have transpired. Only in the bizarre world of baseball, with its anti-trust exemption, are such divide-up-the-spoils shenanigans even conceivable. But now it's over. Angelos has done his worst to the Nats and his best for the Orioles. The result is a playing field on which the Nats should be able to compete.

The Nats' guaranteed market price TV deal is a uniquely valuable asset. At $20 million to $21 million, the Nats already have higher TV revenue this year than 17 of the other 29 teams and are bunched closely with St. Louis, Arizona, Detroit, Denver and Cleveland.

"Our goal was to expose the entire industry to any Oriole-related expenses [like the guaranteed Oriole sale price], but not do anything to damage the Nationals," said MLB President Bob DuPuy.

Perhaps this nasty and exhausting battle has only one indisputable bright spot: It's finally over.

Angelos gets to puff out his chest and tell his lieges in Bal'mer that he's absconded with a disgustingly high percentage of the regional network he craved. But it's a good bet that he won't break down the actual numbers associated with his victory.

In dollars per season, he'll be lucky to pick enough dough from the Nats' pockets to buy himself a bullpen mop-up man.

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