Last summer, Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis bought the two-thirds of NBC Sports Washington he didn’t own. Soon after, rumors emerged that Leonsis would attempt to buy out the Washington Nationals media rights from MASN in sync with his purchase of the team.
Months later, little has changed. The Nationals have still not been sold. Their dispute with MASN is still held up in court and their media rights are still held by the network. To the shock of no one, those two items are related.
In a Tuesday article for the Washington Post, Barry Svrluga details the lack of clarity regarding the team’s ownership situation going into Spring Training. One major reason he cites for the lack of progress on a sale? Of course, it’s the MASN situation.
First, here’s a CliffsNotes from Svrluga on the dispute about MASN and the legal wrangling between the Nationals and Orioles.
The shadow that has shrouded the Nationals since they came into existence is at worst preventing and at least delaying their sale. We have written this before, but it’s worth restating now: The model for successfully running a baseball team includes making significant revenue from selling your local media and broadcast rights. But when Major League Baseball moved the Montreal Expos to Washington in 2004, it compensated the Baltimore Orioles — whose geographic territory the Nats were infringing upon — by granting the Orioles control of those rights. Not for a year or a decade, but in perpetuity.
The Nationals believe the Orioles have withheld the rightful share of their revenue dating back more than a decade. That affects the Lerners’ intake and, the Lerners have argued in court, limited the Nationals’ ability to spend on players.
We’ve written about this every step of the way, the last time coming in late 2020.
Anyway, Svrluga also mentions how murkiness surrounding MASN, heading into the Orioles’ latest appeal on March 14th, has slowed the sale process to a crawl, specifically when it comes to the involvement of Leonsis.
The most likely buyer of the Nationals — if there’s a buyer at all — is Ted Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Capitals, the Mystics and the Wizards. Importantly, Leonsis now owns NBC Sports Washington, effectively a MASN rival. He has an interest in the Nationals as a team and as programming inventory. There’s no moving forward without at least some certainty on what MASN could bring in — preferably with a solution in which the Orioles and Nationals find a way (read: $$$$) to grant the Nats their media rights.
This was always going to be an issue with selling the Nationals. The valuation of the team, and its attractiveness to a buyer, would be drastically different if the MASN dispute was still crawling through the courts. It still is, and here we are, with no resolution for the sale in sight.