A New York court of appeals last week declared the Orioles and Nationals will play extra innings in the teams’ longstanding dispute over fees the Orioles’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) owes the Nationals for broadcasting their games.
The teams have shared the network since the Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) arrived in Washington D.C. for the 2005 season. The Orioles, incensed that the Nationals were consuming about a third of their market, broadcast Washington’s games at a substantial discount from 2005 to 2011 after which the MLB obligated Baltimore to pay fair market value. After MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (RSDC) ruled MASN owed the Nationals $298 million for broadcast rights from 2012 to 2016, the Orioles cried foul and claimed the panel was biased. MASN cited opposing counsel’s duel representation of Washington and the MLB in unrelated matters as a red flag, along with MLB’s $25 million advance to Nationals’ owner Ted Lerner to reportedly placate Lerner for having to sell MASN broadcast rights at a discount from 2005 to 2011. MLB responded telling The Baltimore Sun the loans were “fully justified [and] done with the Orioles’ and MASN’s knowledge and encouragement.”
Associate Justice Richard Andrias, speaking for a 3-2 majority, found MASN’s claims unpersuasive because the panel will consist of new members and the Nationals will use new counsel. Additionally, the Court found considerable significance in the teams’ decision to assign all disputes over telecast fees to the RSDC, an expert body with specialized knowledge on the apportionment of broadcast fees for sports teams, yet reserved other disputes for the MLB commissioner and/or American Arbitration Association (AAA).
The decision was not a complete loss for Baltimore, as the Court vacated an award MASN found to be unfair. However, if performance has any impact on value, the Nationals appear to hold an edge. After six consecutive losing seasons, the Nationals clinched playoff births in three of their last five campaigns, two of which came after the first RSDC panel rendered its decision. Washington is also well-positioned for another post-season appearance with a comfortable 10.5 game lead over the rebuilding Braves in the National League East.
Counsel for the Orioles told The Hollywood Reporter that MASN will explore appealing the Court’s ruling before submitting to the RSDC for what would appear to be a final showdown for these crosstown rivals 12 years in the making.