Litigation between the Nationals and Orioles over Mid-Atlantic Sports Network television revenue has been lost in a mess of legal twists and turns. The dispute, over whether the arbitration ruling that initially awarded the Nationals nearly $300 million should stand, has been carried far from its basic question: How much of MASN’s revenue should come the Nationals way?
Another legal twist came Thursday, when a procedural ruling stalled another Orioles appeal. Basically, the Orioles had appealed a previous decision that the dispute should be heard again by Major League Baseball’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (RSDC), the same body the Orioles argued was neither neutral nor unbiased in its initial ruling because MLB officials and owners comprise the RSDC. The Orioles will still appeal that decision, meaning the case could still go back to the RSDC but will do so through another legal avenue. Both sides expected Thursday’s ruling, and neither side’s plan changes dramatically because of it.
“Today’s action just means that MASN’s appeal should proceed through a different procedural route,” MASN attorney Thomas Hall said in a statement. “Having won vacatur of the prior award due to MLB’s evident partiality and disregard for fundamental fairness, MASN will continue to press its appeal on the question of whether MLB is disqualified from rehearing the parties’ right fees dispute.”
But the ruling does highlight the convoluted progression of the litigation, which likely will not be settled for years. As a result, the Nationals will probably be forced to operate under the assumption that the television revenue they are owed — however much the court decides that is — will not arrive in time to help meet payroll in the short term.
The team’s player payroll exceeded $190 million last season for the first time in franchise history, pushing it over the luxury-tax threshold as a first-time offender in 2017.
The Nationals have pursued other external revenue streams to bolster their capital. Before the 2016 season, the organization made clear its intentions to market the naming rights to Nationals Park. Despite extensive talks with several potential bidders — including local energy company Exelon, which sponsored the late-night Metro service during this year’s playoffs — they are not near a deal for those rights. Those talks with Exelon have since subsided, according to people familiar with the situation, and do not seem likely to yield a deal.
So while the Nationals remain financially healthy and competitive in their payroll, they could be healthier and have more money to spend. They will not get their television rights any time soon. Naming-rights revenue seems ready for an imminent arrival on South Capitol Street. More money will be coming at some time in the future, but for now, the Nationals seem to be rolling their stone hopefully up the mountain on a variety of fronts, only to have it slide back their way with no money in tow.
Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.
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