Angelos Willing To Share MASN With Comcast

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 8, 2006

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos told a House committee yesterday that he is willing to combine his regional sports network with Comcast's SportsNet to break a stalemate that is preventing Comcast's 1.3 million Washington area cable customers from receiving Nationals baseball games.

"We are prepared to talk about a potential amalgamation of the two systems," said Angelos, who until now had adamantly opposed sharing ownership in his Mid-Atlantic Sports Network with the cable giant. But Angelos said yesterday he would consider combining the two networks only if Comcast will make room on its cable channels for Nationals games.

Comcast has refused to air MASN, which is the home network for the Nationals, because of a dispute between its network subsidiary, Comcast SportsNet, and Angelos over the television rights to the Orioles.

Comcast subscribers throughout the Washington region can only watch Nationals games broadcast on WDCA (Channel 20) and Fox. Additional games are broadcast on ESPN, but some are blacked out locally. The vast majority of Nationals games are shown on MASN.

Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen said after the hearing that he was open to further discussions about a combination of the two regional sports networks.

"We will have to listen to that," Cohen said. "I think what [Angelos] was saying is putting Comcast SportsNet and MASN together into a single network." Asked if it was a solution to the current blackout, Cohen said: "I don't know the answer to that."

Angelos's offer came during testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform, which called the hearing on why more than 1 million Comcast customers can't watch Nationals games.

"I am disappointed that the sophisticated businessmen involved in this dispute have failed to strike a deal," committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said. "There should be enough money and good sense to make a deal work for everyone. The only people hurt by this dispute are the fans."

Davis seized on the Angelos offer when he asked Cohen what it would take to break the logjam and get the games on Comcast.

"Amalgamation of the two [systems] is as good as you are going to get," said Davis, reminding the cable firm that its industry has a number of issues before Congress.

Philadelphia-based Comcast, which is the largest cable company in the United States with more than 21 million subscribers, offered a potential solution of its own to the impasse on the eve of yesterday's hearing. The company proposed that Major League Baseball and MASN dissolve their partnership that gives MASN the exclusive rights to Nationals local television broadcasts. MASN pays the Nationals $20 million this season for the games, and the Nationals, which are currently owned by MLB, has an ownership interest in MASN that will grow to 33 percent over the next three decades.

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

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