The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bug Selig on MASN dispute: ‘It’s not an easy situation to resolve’

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, center, is flanked by Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner in late 2011. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig addressed the ongoing television rights dispute between the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, and yet again suggested that a resolution is still far off.

“I spent a lot of time talking to both clubs, even very recently,” said Selig at an annual luncheon with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “And we hope to have a resolution. It’s a really a difficult situation. I’m always hopeful we can find a resolution.”

There have been, however, no new developments, according to a person familiar with the matter who is not authorized to speak publicly about it. The Orioles and Nationals have been deadlocked over the value of the Nationals’ television rights since the end of the 2011 season. That was the first opportunity the Nationals could negotiate for higher broadcast rights fees paid by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

“Let’s put it this way: it’s not an easy situation to resolve,” Selig said.

MASN is the regional sports network that televises both Nationals and Orioles games but is controlled primarily by the Orioles and owner Pete Angelos. When MLB relocated the Montreal Expos franchise to Washington in 2005 and created the Nationals, it gave Angelos and his sports network the rights to broadcast Nationals games.

The Nationals have asked for between $100 million and $120 million per year, far more than the $29 million they received in the 2011 season. They have sought to enjoy the same skyrocketing size increases in television rights as other teams, particularly those also in the top 10 markets. MASN and the Orioles proposed paying Washington $34 million for the 2012 season, arguing that their proposal extrapolated over the next 20 years totaled over $2 billion including the increasing equity stakes.

The Nationals’ stake in MASN increased to 14 percent this season. Based on the proposal of MASN and the Orioles, the rights fee amount would increase to just under $37 million in 2013 with an equity stake payment of $8 million. But if the Nationals receive closer to the amount they requested, it would boost their bottom line, increase their value and potentially their spending.

There also hasn’t been any progress with potential creative solutions to the dispute, such as last winter, when MLB asked a private investment bank to seek buyers, such as Fox or Comcast, for the network.

While the resolution of the MASN dispute appears distant, some have called for quick solution. Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, has called for a quick resolution to the issue. Scott Boras, a prominent agent who represents several players under contract with the Nationals such as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, also argued that there should be a faster solution to disputes between teams.

“They have an arbiter process, but the key thing is you have to have it done in a period of time,” Boras said before all-star events on Monday. “You cannot have it linger on. The one thing I think the union could be subscribed in is that if there is a disagreement, which affects the revenues of a team, they understand that the best interests of baseball is not being carried out because that franchise is saying I can’t devote my revenues to players. The process certainly requires, I think, a time frame where by clubs cannot have mutual agreements in advance which is preventing them from getting revenue definition.”