THOMAS BOSWELL: Washington Nationals are due a bigger check from MASN for TV rights – The Post
The column linked above is almost two weeks old, but still an important read.
Tomorrow is apparently a big day that the Washington Nationals-MASN/Baltimore Orioles stalemate. A panel of three representatives from the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets will give MLB commissioner Bud Selig a recommendation “$60 million or $100 million or likely a number in between” on what the Nats annual rights fee should be. Either way, the Nats stand to make much more revenue from the MASN deal that was forced on them by Peter Angelos, but I think Boswell was being naive thinking that Selig will merely rubber stamp the recommendation unless the Nats get low-balled. As Boswell pointed out in the column, this should have been figured out in November, but Selig does not move swiftly when he has to make a major decision even when the solution is self-evident (see Expos and Athletics relocations). Selig is also friends with Angelos which is how this corrupt bargain was created in the first place.
As for the three representatives, I would imagine the Mets would argue for lower compensation since the Nats are a division rival. The Rays on the other hand would have motivation to encourage a higher rights fee since it could potentially weaken their division rival, the Orioles. The Pirates are the wild card, since they are a small market in the same league as the Nats. While higher rights fees could help “raise all boats” including theirs, they could also fear that another power team in the NL is worse for business.
On the Nats side is Chris Bevilacqua, who has been successful with team deals and RSNs before. I can’t imagine he’s had a tougher one.
Most likely, the Nats’ deal will fall in the $70 million-$90 million range, though all such MLB debates are state secrets. One hidden factor is key: The interests of almost everyone in baseball (except MASN and Angelos) are aligned with the Nats’ getting a rational price. Why? Each new monster regional sports network deal (some contracts now top $1.5 billion) set “comparable” prices for the next team’s negotiation with its TV providers.
If the Nats got shafted, many owners would scream. What’s the point of having a legal monopoly if you don’t band together to drive up prices for your product?
This entire MASN-Nats tussle is about “when” and “how much,” not “if.” A deal has to get finished to set 2013’s MASN price. But you can bet that Angelos and MASN want to string out the Nats as long as possible in hopes of extracting a better deal. The Lerners tend to be phobic about imprecise budget projections, and uncertainty could set them dithering about whether or not to make a July 31 deadline trade that would increase payroll.
My expectation is that Selig will continue to reward Angelos’ bad behavior, first by delaying a decision until the offseason and then selecting a low rights fee. Regardless of that outcome, I fully expect Angelos to go to war with the cable providers over carriage fees of MASN/MASN2, scapegoating the Nats in the process. This could get ugly and don’t be shocked if MASN isn’t on some local cable systems on Opening Day of next year.
UPDATE: There is an interesting thread on MASN on Federal Baseball