Comcast Wants to Show Nats

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

One day before the House Government Reform Committee holds hearings on why Washington Nationals games are not shown on Comcast, the cable carrier asked Major League Baseball to break its contract with the regional sports network that carries the team's games.

Comcast Corp. yesterday offered to end its blackout of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and pay the Nationals $20 million to show this season's games on its own regional sports network, Comcast SportsNet, according to a letter that Comcast sent to Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig yesterday.

Comcast's 1.3 million customers throughout the Washington region can only watch Nationals games broadcast on WDCA (Channel 20), ESPN and Fox. The vast majority of games are shown on MASN.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Comcast -- the largest cable provider in the nation with more than 21 million subscribers -- proposed that the Nationals' broadcast rights be put up for auction, where they can go to the highest bidder instead of being the exclusive property of MASN.

Baseball spokesman Rich Levin declined to comment. MASN spokesman Todd Webster called Comcast's proposal "an 11th hour public relations stunt by a Philadelphia corporate bully that is desperately trying to maintain its monopolistic grip on regional sports programming. It is as unworkable as it is desperate."

When informed of Webster's statements, Comcast's Executive Vice President David Cohen issued the following response:

"This charge is intended to divert attention away from the fact that Comcast is the one advocating a solution that will protect all interests, including that of the Nationals and fans, and one which will allow the Nationals to license their rights to a free and open marketplace the way other professional baseball teams do."

Webster said MASN yesterday made its fifth offer to Comcast to put on the games, but said it was once again rebuffed by the cable giant.

Philadelphia-based Comcast is suing MASN in a separate matter involving who will control the television rights to the Baltimore Orioles, and in the meantime the cable company has refused to make room for MASN on one of its channels.

Five cable and satellite providers in the Washington area have agreed to carry MASN's Nationals games to about 2 million households, but the team cannot achieve maximum distribution throughout the Washington region without Comcast.

MASN's majority owner is the Baltimore Orioles; the franchise was given TV rights to the Washington area by MLB in 1981. When the Nationals moved here last season, Orioles owner Peter Angelos agreed to share the territory and not legally oppose the franchise's relocation in return for control of local television broadcasts of the Nationals. MASN will pay the Nationals $20 million this season for those rights.

Baseball has owned the Nationals since February 2002, and the league is expected to soon sell the team for $450 million to one of eight bidders.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company