Weeks before the planned start of Spring Training, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is reportedly engaging in a drastic cutback of their Orioles and Nationals coverage in 2021.

According to The Athletic, MASN is dumping pregame and postgame shows for the two teams, and is also cutting on-air staff covering both teams. Britt Ghiroli’s report notes that among those let go are Mike Bordick, Tom Davis, Rick Dempsey, Jim Hunter, Dave Johnson, and most notably, Gary Thorne. Davis, Dempsey, Hunter, and Thorne weren’t part of the team’s broadcast plans in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, though Thorne eventually came to an agreement to return remotely in a limited capacity for 2020. Interestingly, The Athletic’s article about Thorne’s return pointed to a contract dispute, rather than the pandemic, as the reason he wasn’t involved in broadcasts.

Hunter tweeted about his departure on Friday morning.

Cuts on the Nationals side are still unclear at this point, though the team generally has had a smaller amount of personnel covering the team in previous seasons. For reference: the Orioles website lists 19 broadcasters for the 2020 season (including the six reportedly let go), while the Nationals website lists 11 (half of which are radio).

Furthermore, MASN plans to slash pregame and postgame studio coverage for both teams. As opposed to the studio style format, coverage will be 15 minutes before or after the game, featuring the in-game talent (AKA, the game broadcasters). If the two teams want their previous level of coverage, they’ll reportedly have to pay for it on their own.

Additionally, spring training coverage of both teams will reportedly be minimized, if not completely eliminated.

As an RSN, MASN has been struggling for years now, thanks in part to a long-running dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over rights fees owed to Washington, with the latest update coming in October with an appeals court upholding the judgment that MASN owes the Nationals $100 million in back rights fees. For some context about this issue, our first post about it came in July of 2014. It has still not been resolved.

MASN also hasn’t made much of an impact digitally. The only streaming service it’s available on is AT&T TV NOW, and the RSN’s website doesn’t have an option to stream live games. The two MLB teams also represent the only significant exclusive pro content on MASN, as the Wizards and Capitals rights belong to NBC Sports Washington.

For as shitty a situation as this is, it probably makes sense for MASN. The Orioles have not been a .500 team since 2016, and likely won’t be one in 2021. The Nationals won the World Series in 2019, but stunk last year and might very well struggle again in a tough NL East in 2021 (plus, there isn’t much to cut from their coverage plans, anyway). Given the revenue declines related to the pandemic and the potential of a tidal wave of past rights fees going to the Nationals, slashing costs and coverage is a tough, but perhaps ultimately reasonable, decision.

UPDATE: MASN is letting go of Dan Kolko, Bo Porter, and Alex Chappell on the Nationals side, and the team is not pleased.

Chappell also tweeted about her departure.

[The Athletic]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.