The Washington Nationals and regional sports network MASN have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the team’s rights fee since 2012. Between 2005 and 2011, MASN and in particular, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, were able to get the rights to the Nats for a substantial discount paying $29 million annually during that period. This was Major League Baseball compensating Angelos for the Nationals infringing on a territory that Angelos claimed was the Orioles’. The O’s have a substantial majority stake in MASN.
Starting in 2012 as part of the rights agreement, the Nationals were supposed to receive fair market value for their rights. The team wanted to increase its rights fee to $100-120 million annually. Of course, MASN balked and it has led to a dispute that has carried into the courts.
The Hollywood Reporter says MLB held an arbitration hearing with a panel consisting of two team owners and a team executive and it ruled in favor of the Nationals. But since then, MASN and the Nationals have been fighting over the matter sending dueling letters to each other and MLB threatening to take the issue to court.
An exasperated Commissioner Bud Selig has written a letter to Angelos and Nationals owner Ted Lerner threatening action against the parties:
“Both the Orioles and the Nationals have at various times made threats to institute litigation in connection with this dispute, despite my office’s extended, good-faith efforts to have this matter resolved by agreement. On a personal note, I owned a Club for decades and I can honestly say that under no circumstances would I have threatened, let alone commenced, litigation against Baseball. Please be advised that nothing in the Agreement authorizes the parties to file any lawsuit. … I want there to be no doubt that, if any party initiates any lawsuit, or fails to act in strict compliance with the procedures set forth in the Agreement concerning the [Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee of Major League Baseball]’s decision, I will not hesitate to impose the strongest sanctions available to me under the Major League Constitution.”
Imposing the strongest actions could mean forcing an owner to sell a team as was the case with Frank McCourt who had to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers.
One of the interesting developments in the Hollywood Reporter story is this tidbit that surfaced:
“Selig, who owned the Milwaukee Brewers before becoming commissioner and whose efforts to keep this all under wraps has included sending the Nationals money …”
Is that in essence hush money to keep the Nationals quiet and prevent the issue from becoming public? But the story has become public now and with the Orioles/MASN and the Nationals continuing to bicker, there is no sign that this will be resolved soon.
The Nationals are appealing to MLB to enforce the arbitration decision. MASN and the Orioles have filed a summons in court seeking to modify or vacate the decision. The Nats have responded saying MLB has not enforced arbitration and wants the court to confirm its award.
With Selig retiring in January, this is an issue that continues to dangle over his head and despite his confidence that it will be resolved, the two sides remain deadlocked as they continue to wage their war of words.
The Orioles are accusing MLB of “improper financial motives” and are dismissing Selig’s threat of imposing sanctions on the team.
For their part, the Nationals “seek all appropriate remedies for nonpayment, including (without limitation) termination of MASN’s license to telecast Nationals games.”
So in essence, the Nationals are trying to get paid or get out of their MASN contract altogether. It’s a situation that is coming to a head and it appears that courts will have to decide this issue.
No matter what happens, this is a giant headache for Bud Selig and one that he’s going to have to deal with as his retirement date fast approaches.