The battle between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals over rights fees for Nationals games on MASN (which the Orioles have a majority stake in) took another step forward this week, but is still nowhere close to being solved.
On Wednesday, New York state Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Marks favored MASN and the Orioles in regards to an arbitration ruling in favor of the Nationals last summer. The main point of Marks’ ruling was that the same law firm, Proskauer Rose, represented MLB, the Nationals, and members of the arbitration panel, creating a ridiculous conflict of interest.
The key quote, from Sports Business Daily…
“Had MLB, the arbitrators, the Nationals and/or Proskauer taken some reasonable step to address (the Orioles’) concerns about the Nationals’ choice of counsel in the arbitration – or indeed any step at all – the court might well have been compelled to uphold the arbitral award,” Marks wrote in his decision. “But MASN and the Orioles have established that their well-documented concerns fell on entirely deaf ears.”
A year ago, the arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Nationals, but an injunction was extended that tied the Nationals’ TV rights to MASN and their lower rights fees. Back in May, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made some statements in favor of the Nationals in the conflict that rubbed the Orioles and MASN the wrong way.
What’s next now that the arbitration panel’s ruling has been vacated? Well, the Nationals could appeal, because of course they would. Attorney Stephen Neuwirth released a statement from the team slamming the ruling and noting that Marks had rejected several parts of the Orioles/MASN argument. Yet another arbitration session could be ahead of us, with the Nationals being represented by a different law firm to remove the conflict of interest that resulted in the ruling by Marks.
This probably won’t be resolved in time for the 2016 season. The Nationals are still getting roughly $40 million per year from MASN, but they were seeking upwards of $60 million. Given how much the team’s payroll has escalated in recent seasons, that extra $20 million could go a long way.