The Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball yesterday continued to move closer to an agreement that could clear the way for the Washington Nationals to be broadcast throughout the region when the season starts April 4.
A decision on the Nationals' television broadcasts is the only unresolved part of a financial package that baseball has proposed to the Orioles to offset the effect that the Nationals will have on the Baltimore club's finances.
"We continue to make progress," said Alan Rifkin, a lawyer representing Orioles owner Peter Angelos. "We've adjourned for the night. We will be meeting first thing [Thursday] morning."
The talks between Rifkin and MLB President Robert DuPuy are taking place at baseball's headquarters in New York.
The talks have focused on who controls the rights to the Baltimore-Washington region, according to sources. 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.
MLB maintains that Angelos was never guaranteed exclusive broadcasting rights to the Washington area, and the league can vote to redistrict the region's television rights to make room for the Nationals, whom it moved from Montreal last fall. Angelos opposes any redistricting and has let baseball know that he would sue the league if it acted to put the Nationals on local television without his participation.
Baseball believes it would win any suit, but is hoping to avoid the messiness of having Angelos sue the league.
The Orioles said they need revenue from the entire television territory in order to compete against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East Division. The team said it will lose approximately $30 million this year in ticket sales, in-stadium advertising, parking and concessions because of the Nationals' presence in Washington.
Angelos has proposed an Orioles-owned regional sports network that would pay the Nationals, collectively owned by baseball's 29 owners, fair market value for televising their games on the Orioles' network. That number, presumed to be in the $25 million range, likely would increase over time as the Nationals' popularity grew. The Orioles-controlled network also would pay the Orioles itself a fair-market value for the team's television rights.
An Angelos-owned regional sports network would take the risk of operating the regional sports network and would collect the profits, if there were any. Angelos said he needs the extra profits to make up for the financial losses the Nationals will cause his club.
MLB is reluctant to cede control of the Nationals' television rights to another team, fearing it would handicap the franchise and reduce the sale price. The league has at least seven bidders who want to buy the Nationals, which baseball insiders hope will bring $350 million to $400 million.
Meanwhile, the Orioles yesterday announced that Comcast SportsNet, the club's cable television partner, will air 87 games throughout the Washington-Baltimore region. The Orioles will broadcast another 63 games through Orioles Television, with WNUV carrying 38 games and WJZ 25 games.
Comcast SportsNet, whose Comcast cable parent serves most of the homes in the Baltimore-Washington region, has two more seasons on its contract to air Orioles games, but also is believed to be ready to broadcast Nationals games by the team's opening game against Philadelphia.