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Orioles, MLB Make Progress During Talks on Regional Rights

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page D06

With 12 days remaining until Opening Day and the Washington Nationals still without a local television deal, lawyers for Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles made progress on an agreement yesterday that will allow for the broadcast of Nationals games.

Alan Rifkin, an attorney for Angelos, and MLB President Robert DuPuy met for several hours at MLB's New York headquarters before adjourning last night, according to sources. But while the sides were working toward a compromise, nothing had been finalized.

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"We met all day today," DuPuy said in a phone call around 8 p.m. "We have made progress. We are going to adjourn for the night and we are going to continue our discussions tomorrow."

The rights to the Baltimore-Washington region are at the center of the talks with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. The dispute is delaying a final agreement on a compensation package that MLB will give Angelos for the financial impact that the Nationals will have on his team.

The delay is costing the Nationals valuable marketing opportunities because the Nationals cannot move forward on a local television agreement until the compensation package is agreed upon. Angelos inherited the broadcast rights to the Baltimore-Washington region, extending from the Pennsylvania border to North Carolina and from West Virginia to Delaware, when he bought the Baltimore club for $173 million in 1993. After moving the Expos from Montreal to Washington last fall, MLB wants to recast the Orioles' broadcast region to accommodate the Nationals.

The Orioles oppose any redistricting of the team's broadcast rights, saying they paid for those rights and need the financial revenues from viewers to stay competitive in the American League East Division.

Angelos has proposed an Orioles-owned regional sports network that would pay the Nationals, collectively owned by MLB's 29 other teams, fair market value for televising their games on the Orioles' network. That number, presumed to be in the $25 million range, would likely increase over time as the Nationals grow more popular and their television rights grow with it, according to sources familiar with the proposal.

MLB has been reluctant to cede the Nationals' television rights to any broadcast entity controlled by a rival team, but the league has not moved ahead on its own because it wants to avoid a lawsuit by Angelos, who made his fortune as a successful trial lawyer.

The television deal is the only loose end in a six-month negotiation between MLB and Angelos that is designed to compensate the Orioles for the $30 million in ticket sales, concessions, advertising and parking revenue that the Baltimore club expects to lose because of the Nationals' arrival in the Washington market.

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