Orioles Accuse Comcast of Intimidating Cable Prospects
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The Baltimore Orioles accused Comcast Corporation yesterday of trying to intimidate cable and satellite companies from televising Washington Nationals and other sports programming produced by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) -- co-owned by the Orioles and Major League Baseball -- according to a motion filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
The Orioles' motion, which seeks to prevent Comcast from obtaining confidential financial information on the newly formed regional sports network, is in response to a lawsuit Comcast filed last month. In that suit, Comcast alleges that the Baltimore baseball club is in violation of its contract with Comcast by planning to put Orioles games on MASN beginning in 2007.
In its court filing, the Orioles said Comcast "has already made improper use of . . . these proceedings by writing to approximately fifty entities, including present and prospective customers [of MASN], in a thinly disguised effort to intimidate those customers from entering into, or continuing with, business relationships with [MASN]."
Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, who had not seen the motion, called it "spurious," and said: "All that Comcast SportsNet has done is to make Major League Baseball, the Baltimore Orioles and the distributors of Comcast SportsNet service aware of the flouting of our clear contractual rights. And we are entitled to do that.
"If the Baltimore Orioles did not want us to communicate in this way, then they should have honored our contract."
Comcast, which will broadcast about 80 Orioles games this season on its Comcast SportsNet subsidiary, is the largest cable company in the United States with 22 million subscribers. It has enormous clout in the broadcast industry.
The motion also contains a letter from Orioles attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. to Comcast attorneys that offers an insight into the Orioles' defense of MASN. The network was created to compensate Orioles owner Peter Angelos for the effects of relocating the Nationals franchise to Washington.
Comcast has said that its contract with the Orioles gives it the right to match any offer before the Orioles move to another network or "third party." But the Orioles claim they are not required to allow Comcast to match MASN's offer.
"The Orioles haven't violated their agreement with Comcast," Murphy said in a telephone interview. "The Orioles have formed their own regional sports network, and that angers Comcast. There is no third party here."
Access to television has become a crucial issue to the Nationals as the franchise seeks to develop a fan base in the Washington region. Satellite provider DirecTV carries 135 Nationals games to its 1.3 million customers in the region, and last week cable company RCN struck a deal with MASN to deliver a similar amount of games to its 185,000 customers in the area.
MASN is also in negotiations with other cable companies and broadcasters.
About 80 games will be broadcast this season over the air by UPN Channel 20 (WDCA) and Fox Channel 5 (WTTG).
The Nationals will have difficulty getting broad distribution throughout the Washington-Baltimore region because Comcast, which is the dominant cable provider in the region, has not made room for the games on its channels. The company carries Nationals games on its WDCA, WTTG and ESPN channels, but the cable provider has not picked up the MASN channel.
"Their unspoken position is that they won't televise Nationals games until they own a piece of MASN," Murphy said.