One television expert compared the arrangement to the New York Yankees controlling the broadcast rights of its metropolitan rival New York Mets.
"Controlling the broadcast entity has been the threshold on the negotiations," said one baseball source who would not allow his name to be used because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Baseball has 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 ultimately prevail in a suit by Angelos, but they are trying to avoid it nevertheless.
The stalemate has stalled baseball's attempts to sell the team. At least seven individuals or groups have deposited $100,000 each with MLB for the right to bid on the Nationals, but the process has not moved much beyond an examination of financial records because of the failure to achieve a deal with Angelos.
At least two bidders, who would not allow their names to be used for fear it could hurt their chances to buy the team, said they would have grave concerns if the Nationals' television rights were controlled by Angelos. One bidder said that if the Nationals were locked into an Orioles-controlled network and forced to negotiate with Angelos every few years on new terms, it could reduce the sale price of the Washington team.
But if the Nationals are allowed to own part of a regional sports network, it enhances the value of the team in a sale. Baseball is hoping the Nationals will fetch at least $350 million, which will be divided equally among the league's other owners.
"Until you know what the television deal is, it is impossible to value the team because the media rights are the bedrock of the value of the franchise," said investment banker Sal Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners. "Until you know what your [television] rights payment is going to be, until you know what share of the regional sports network, if any, you are going to get, it is impossible to value the franchise."
The negotiations between Angelos and baseball have touched on several points that could assuage the concerns of would-be buyers, such as a 15-year clause that would lock in certain financial and marketing incentives for the Nationals that the Orioles could not manipulate. There has also been discussion about an independent arbitrator to oversee disagreements between the Nationals and Orioles, sources said.
There is still the question of whether the teams will be broadcast on a new sports channel or whether an existing channel, such as Comcast SportsNet, would carry the games. The Orioles have two years left on their contract with Comcast to televise about 100 games per season. Fox Sports Net has also been contacted about working with the Orioles and Nationals.