Nats to Have Fewer Games Over the Air

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 2006

The Washington Nationals yesterday announced a 2006 television schedule that reduces by nearly half the number of games that will be broadcast over the air, further limiting the team's exposure in the Baltimore-Washington region because major cable companies that dominate the market have not agreed to carry its games.

In the season that begins April 3, 36 Nationals games will be televised on WDCA Channel 20 and seven will be broadcast on Fox Channel 5. That is down from the team's inaugural season in Washington, when 81 games were carried over the air, the majority of them on Channel 20.

Duffy Dyer, general manager of WDCA, said the station will carry fewer games than last year because that was the total offered by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, a regional network owned by the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball. "In an inaugural year, they were looking for wide distribution in its initial package," Dyer said. " If MASN wanted to discuss taking some additional telecasts, that's something we would be looking to sit down and take a look at."

MASN spokesman Todd Webster said the network was offering a smaller number of games to over-the-air networks this season to more closely mirror the broadcast packages of most other baseball teams, which he said usually transmit about 30 games. "Because of the late start, last year was an anomaly," Webster said. "And this year the number of over-the-air games is in line with the standard for Major League Baseball."

Nationals President Tony Tavares said the drop in the number of games over WDCA was "concerning," but he said it was less disturbing than the failure to reach agreements with major cable providers, including Comcast, Cox Communications and Adelphia, which reach about 1.75 million homes in the Washington market.

"Our more significant concern is how many cable households we are going to get into," Tavares said.

MASN, which was founded by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, pays the Nationals around $21 million to produce and air the games. MASN will broadcast 158 games this season, including 154 regular season games and four spring training games, according to the network. Angelos opposed the relocation of the Nationals to Washington, arguing that they would take away fans from the Orioles. Baseball awarded him the Nationals' broadcast rights to win his support for moving the team to the District.

All 158 of the Nationals' games produced by MASN will be aired on the satellite and cable affiliates which have agreements with MASN, including DirecTV, RCN Cable, Charter Cable and VerizonFIOS.

MASN has been unable to get mass exposure for the Nationals that comes from distribution deals with Comcast and the other major cable companies. "MASN seems to be making inroads in the local cable TV market, such as Verizon," Tavares said. "We have added homes in Maryland and Virginia."

Comcast, the largest cable firm in the country with more than 22 million customers, of which 1.3 million live in the Washington market, is suing MASN over the rights to carry the Orioles. A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has twice dismissed Comcast's lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia-based cable company has refused to carry MASN and its Nationals games.

"MASN has made four separate offers to Comcast to carry the games," Webster said. "At some point, someone needs to ask the cable company why they aren't distributing the games."

A Comcast spokesman declined to comment.

WDCA will air eight interleague games between the Nationals and the Orioles, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

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