Five days after a New York judge tossed out an MLB arbitration ruling that would have paid the Nationals more in television rights fees, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league is still “studying the decision” and “trying to decide exactly what’s next.”
While at the groundbreaking for the Nationals-Astros new spring training site in West Palm Beach on Monday morning, Manfred declined to say much on the case but said: “We are intent on making sure that the agreement that gets the Nationals a fair market value for their TV rights is enforced, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to get that.”
In vacating an MLB panel’s decision, Justice Lawrence K. Marks wrote that he didn’t have the authority to tell both sides what to do. But he suggested that the — the Nationals and Orioles, who are majority owners of MASN, settle the issue, either with a return to MLB’s arbitration panel or through an independent arbitrator.
Marks found little issue with MLB’s arbitration panel process. He tossed out the ruling because one law firm, Proskauer Rose, represented the Nationals, MLB and the three teams on the panel. MASN has argued in past court hearings that the case go to impartial outside arbitration. After the ruling, the Nationals’ attorney said the team was considering an appeal.
The immediate impact of Marks’s decision is that the Nationals will receive $40 million in TV rights fees from MASN per year, nearly $20 million less than the amount awarded by the MLB panel in June 2014.
The dispute dates from before the 2012 season, when both sides were unable to agree on the size of the Nationals’ broadcast fees between 2012 and 2016. The matter went before a three-team MLB arbitration panel, and then to the courts after MASN and the Orioles objected to the decision. Before that, past commissioner, Bud Selig, tried to negotiate a sale of MASN to Comcast for “well in excess of a billion dollars,” according to court documents.
Under the current MASN contract, the TV rights fees are reset every five years, which means the the next negotiation period begins after the 2016 season. It is unclear if the 2012-2016 period will be decided by then. Asked if the current rate of dispute resolution is tenable, Manfred said: “We think the agreement, as drafted, is workable and that hoping that there will be a resolution on rights fees.”