Comcast cable company accused Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos yesterday of creating a regional sports network whose purpose is to keep Washington Nationals games off the vast majority of the region's cable networks.
"Peter Angelos and the Orioles have knowingly created a situation where cable carriers predictably would not carry MASN and, thus, many Washington Nationals' games," Comcast said in a written release that coincided with a legal filing in Montgomery County Circuit Court. "This is particularly regrettable given that, unlike Mr. Angelos, Comcast supported the return of Major League Baseball to Washington D.C. and offered to broadcast the Nats games on far more favorable terms than is the case with MASN."
Comcast is the largest cable company in the United States with nearly 22 million subscribers. The Orioles and Comcast have been in a legal and public relations brawl since Comcast sued the Orioles and Major League Baseball earlier this year over Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the Orioles' regional sports network that owns television rights to both the Nationals and the Orioles.
"It is Comcast that wants to keep the games off its cable systems to protect its monopoly in the Washington, D.C., region," said Albert Brault, an attorney for the Orioles. "By personally attacking a Major League Baseball owner who challenges Comcast's monopoly, Comcast has again proven that it is only concerned about protecting its monopoly position."
Major League Baseball agreed to let the Orioles retain the television rights to the Baltimore-Washington region in return for moving the Nationals from Montreal to Washington. As part of that agreement, the Orioles-owned MASN is paying the Nationals $20 million this year for the right to carry the Washington club's games. That amount escalates in future years. Baseball owns 10 percent of MASN, growing to 33 percent over the next several decades.
MASN produces Nationals games, but it must go to cable companies such as Comcast, Cox, RCN, satellite providers such as DirecTV, and over-the-air stations such as UPN Channel 20 in Washington in order to get the games delivered to homes and businesses. So far, only DirecTV, RCN, Channel 20 and Fox Channel 5 are carrying Nationals games.
To maximize MASN's profit, the Orioles must take back their television rights from Comcast and televise the Orioles games, along with the Nationals, on MASN. But Comcast, which has said there is only room for one regional sports network in the area, has sued to prevent the Orioles from moving their games to MASN after the 2006 season, arguing in court filings that its contract allows it to match any "third party" offer to televise Orioles games.
Comcast's lawsuit and the Orioles' defense centers on whether MASN is a third party. Comcast contends it is; the Orioles argue that MASN is just another name for the Orioles' long-standing television arm. The legal case will likely rest on a judge's interpretation of "third party."
Meantime, Comcast has refused to provide a channel for the MASN-produced Nationals games to its subscribers. With the Orioles entangled in a court fight with the nation's biggest cable company, MASN has been unable to negotiate agreements with other major cable providers to carry Nationals games and has begun a public relations campaign to put pressure on cable companies to carry the games.