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Angelos Marches On

And still he fights on, the cocky, feisty owner of the Baltimore Orioles, determined to undermine the new competition down the road. Again, fans of the Washington Nationals lose out: This season, the Nats, already probably the least televised team in all of professional baseball, will put half as many games on broadcast TV as they did last year.

Channels 20 and 5 will carry all of 43 games this year, down from 81 last season. Most of the other games will appear on the phantom cable network controlled by Angelos, MASN, which still has no deal to be carried on the major cable systems in the area.

Only those lucky few of us who get Starpower or DirectTV or a couple of other tiny services will see those telecasts. Why no deal with Comcast, Cox Communications or Adelphia? It's easy to blame those cable companies, which, after all, have sued Angelos' operation.

But the ultimate fault lies with Angelos, who is determined to use his control of the Nationals TV rights to establish his own network as a big player in the local cable business, thereby shoving aside giants like Comcast. There's not much incentive for Comcast and its ilk to sign on to their own diminution in the sports TV world.

Angelos, of course, is loving the fact that the Nats, largely blacked out, will be unable to build a relationship with Washington area fans who would drop in on baseball telecasts night after night. Yes, Angelos loses money with this strategy, but only in the short term. By "wasting" the $21 million he pays for the Nats TV rights each year, he figures he's really saving his O's buckets of cash in the long run, still hoping that he can prevent the Washington team from setting down roots among fans, especially in Maryland and the District.

If we're learned anything over the past two years, it is that the lords of baseball play hardball, and that their greed far exceeds their concern for the health and appeal of the sport they preside over.

Will fans raise a fuss? Would that make a difference? All of this will likely improve only if the Nationals get an owner, and that seems a distant fantasy right now, as Major League Baseball makes increasingly strong noises about rejecting the stadium lease deal that the D.C. Council signed earlier this month. The deadline for baseball's response to the city is coming up in just more than a week, and around the Wilson Building, council staffers say they are not optimistic that baseball will sign the deal.

Spring does eventually arrive, so all is not lost. The question is, will it be on TV?

By Marc Fisher |  February 24, 2006; 7:20 AM ET
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Comments

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It easy to blame Angelos on this one, and as much as I despise the diminutive trial lawyer, the fault here lies with Comcast, Cox, et. al. Could Angelos have been a better businessman, and better all ‘round human being when dealing with the cables? Sure. But why does Comcast refuse to carry MASN? Because MASN provides competition to its Comcast SportsNet. Comcast does not want to lose its local, niche regional sports viewership, little as it is, to some upstart network, with virtually no programming but with a lot of room to grow.

Look, Comcast knows it lost out on the Nats…its real beef is that it lost the O’s to MASN, and hence the court fights, which Comcast has lost TWICE. It’s time for Comcast, Cox, and others to suck it up, negotiate with MASN, and carry the channel. This is nothing more than sour grapes on Comcast part. To continue to blame Angelos is a misinformed and misguided crusade.

Oh, one more thing: why do DirecTV customers, of which I’m one, keep being referred to as the “lucky few?” Cripes, there’s 15 million of us in the country and more than a million in the DC area. Look, for most people, (and save me the diatribe about the poor and those who can’t get the signal) the technology is there to break away from cable. Failure to do so lies only with the consumer.

Posted by: JF in Arlington | February 24, 2006 9:06 AM

There is a significant amount of fault with the cable companies, but it's not some easily dismissed diatribe. There is a big fat tree right in the middle of my line of sight to DirecTV's satellite, otherwise I would have it. I'm not served by RCN or Verizon FiOS, so my only choice is Comcast. And because Selig chose to appease Angelos, because Angelos is such a bastard, and because Comcast is also more willing to fight a Sisyphusian battle with potential competitors than to serve its customers, Nats fans like me lose out.

Posted by: Jamie in DC | February 24, 2006 9:32 AM

Some of us believed that, back in Dec 2004, when the DC Council was first considering the agreement between MLB and DC for a stadium, approval should be conditioned on three things: (1) a cost sharing arrangement with MLB, (2) a guarantee that local ownership would be selected, and (3) a guarantee that the Orioles would not end up in control of the Nationals' television exposure. I personally wrote to each member of the Council on those three points, as did others.

We were ridiculed as naive. But we knew, as other more trusting/hopeful souls did not, what Mark Fisher has now discovered. These guys play hardball, and one should never assume good faith. The only way to deal with them is to play hardball as well, and the District, empty threats to the contrary, was in a position to do it. But we didn't. And now we're paying the price.

How many different ways will MLB dissipate the goodwill that this team earned last year? By trying to leach every possible dime from the city on the stadium? By putting off the ownership decision and possibly slipping in a non-local owner? By failing to assemble a competitive team? By limiting on-air television exposure without first putting a reasonable cable deal in place?

Will those of you who have been ridiculing the Council blame this one on them too?

Posted by: Meridian | February 24, 2006 9:51 AM

Good grief.
MASN is the Nationals television network. Deal with reality.
MASN has offered all the cable companies the Nationals' games. 4 have signed up, Comcast still refuses.
You can keep apologizing for the big cable monopolies, but Comcast subscribers deserve to see MASN and the Nationals games. Their cable bills are already high enough - they should be able to get the games.

Posted by: Dave in Alexandria | February 24, 2006 10:17 AM

I will take a contrarian view. I believe Comcast (I am a subscriber) should hold out until a Nats/Grays/Senators/Buttersticks Owner is named. Only then can MLB, Angelos, Comcast etc. come together and arrive at a solution that will not give our neighbors to the north permanent control over OUR television rights.

I have no problem with a 33-33-33 split between the O's Nats and Comcast for broadcast revenuesof the O's and Nats. I have a huge problem with the long term ownership and control of Nats rights by the owners of MASN, if the DC team isn't equally represented.

This is yet another reason why the Anti-Trust exemption needs to be revoked, or at least the threat by Congress needs to take hold.

Posted by: Andrew | February 24, 2006 10:24 AM

I can't believe that in a city like DC, there's nothing that can be done to change this. And I do feel misled by people like Thomas Boswell, who assured us repeatedly last year that things would get better. I know his intentions were good, but still...

Also, to those like the above poster who says that failure to get DirectTV lies only with the consumer. Uh, you know those big buildings that you see on your way to work, that aren't retail establishments? Those are called apartments. Many people live in them. They're for people who may not be able to afford houses. And, for most of the people that live in them, mounting a satellite dish outside of their bedroom window is not allowed by the people that manage these facilities.

Posted by: mr matt | February 24, 2006 10:25 AM

When you say "Only those lucky few of us who get Starpower or DirectTV or a couple of other tiny services will see those telecasts" - arent there hundreds of thousands of DirecTV customers in the VA/MD/DC Metro area? What is the # - seems like its far more than the lucky few?

Posted by: Jason | February 24, 2006 11:22 AM

Mr Matt, apartment building owners are not permitted to prohibit the installation of DirecTV dishes on apartment balconies, patios, etc. (See http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html ). (They can prohibit installation in commonly controlled areas.) So, if you live in an apartment, you can get DirecTV (so long as your apartment faces in the right direction).

Posted by: Fred | February 24, 2006 11:24 AM

Fred, many apartments in this area have no balconies or patios so installing antennas is not an option. I think that Mr Matt was indicating that he, like me, has nowhere to put a dish, and hanging it beyond the limit of your apartment (in this case, outside the window) is generally not allowed.

I do live in a somewhat old apartment building that still has a hook up to a large antenna on the roof that picks up broadcast signals. Pretty cool.

Posted by: alexandra | February 24, 2006 11:47 AM

Arbitration is a dead end for MLB. District law trumps contract law from the BSA. The arbitrator can't force the city to approve the lease and the BSA caps damages at 25m to the league. With nowhere esle to go, the arbitration is no good for MLB at all. They trade a 600m+ stadium for 26m and the opportunity to relocate.

It's time you guys in the media quit touting MLB's leverage in this matter. Their leverage is 100% contrived. They have none. They cannot relocate this club. There leverage consists of "I shoot my self in the head and bleed all over your carpet if you don't do what I want." It's laughable this DC MLB battered wife type relationship.

As far as MASN goes, I can assure you that a deal has been struck already for Cox and Comcast to buy into MASN for this season. That is why there over 120 games on MASN. The deal will finalize once Comcast/cox are sure that the team is here to stay forever.

Posted by: Not a Lawyer | February 24, 2006 12:02 PM

This argument really doesn't hold any water -- and I'm not an apologist for Peter Angelos.

What's going on with MASN is no different from what happened with YES for the Yankees a few years back. Many teams are taking their broadcasts to their own nets -- Red Sox, Mets to name a couple. As it is here, MASN and Angelos got the Nats' rights as part of the move. Deal with it.

But absent from this post is any evidence that Angelos is delighting in this, or doesn't care about the money. Very sloppy Marc.

Comcast should be in the business of giving customers what they want, or people should be complaining to them. They shouldn't be entitled, by virtue of a cable monopoly, or being able to extort a cut of the TV deal from the Orioles and Nats.

It likewise makes sense to shift more games to MASN (as the Yanks, Sox, Mets do) to bring more pressure to bear on Comcast, which could clearly not care less about their subscribers (except for bill paying time). It's a business, and yes baseball owners know how to play hardball.

I have DirecTV though, so I'll just sit back and watch the games all summer.

Posted by: Hmm | February 24, 2006 12:12 PM

How is it MASN's fault that Comcast, Cox, and Adelphia won't carry a programming service unless they're allowed to own it and that Comcast still refuses to carry a service for which there clearly is significant demand despite having had their lawsuit thrown out TWICE? "Fast breaking observations," indeed. More like wind-breaking.

Posted by: A lawyer | February 24, 2006 12:23 PM

My apt (and the other 600 people that live in my building) has no balcony, and only about 10 units have balconies. Shocking, I know. I've heard that there are some people that actually live in places without air conditioning!

Posted by: mr matt | February 24, 2006 12:26 PM

It's not that it is MASN's fault that Comcast won't carry it. Comcast could carry it, but without other programming, MASN carries no leverage.

MASN is a money laundering scheme for MLB. MLB paid Angelos two payments totalling 75m for a 10% share. Angelos must pay the nationals 21m annually for the rights. MLB seed money will run out before Comcast's will to bar MASN from entry does. Angelos will let Comcast buy in. He has two or he'll pour another 21m down the the drain. MASN is a big fat nothing in terms of value with Comcast carraige. Comcast will buy in for a cool 300m or so for a 1/3 share leaving angelos with quite a nice payola in exchange for NOTHING. Maybe if you would poke around the MASN offices and ask some questons about how they plan to be profitable without a deal with Comcast, you'd see they have NO PLAN other than to get a pay out from Comcast.

Posted by: MASN is Payola | February 24, 2006 12:30 PM

Amazing the lack of heat that MLB takes for its role in this process. If anyone is to blame for the ridiculous TV situation, if anyone should face the wrath of Washington fans, it is MLB. They made a crappy deal to save one of their own, and in the end, Comcast, an equally powerful corporation, is going to hold it against them. That's business. But it's critical to remember that it was MLB that screwed the Nationals out of their TV rights revenues and put them in the hands of their chief local competition.

MLB has set the stage to get one of two options for DC: agree to take on more costs in order to get local ownership, or take an out-of-town owner as a compromise for MLB taking on more costs.

As a life-long baseball fan, and someone who went to around 40 games last year, it's a shame that MLB's behavior is ruining the goodwill of fans.

Posted by: Mike | February 24, 2006 1:33 PM

In the long run, the lack of televised games makes no difference. MLB will win in arbitration, the city will refuse to build a stadium under the terms of the original deal, MLB will sue the city, the parties will settle for $20 million or so, and MLB will move the team to another city for the 2007 or 2008 season. At that point, who will remember how many games were televised in 2006?

Posted by: Nats' fan | February 24, 2006 1:33 PM

Some blame angelos and others blame comcast. Since we are where we are, I blame Comcast. Marc Fisher says that the ultimate fault lies with angelos. Actually, the ultimate fault lies with MLB who made the horrendous deal with angelos in the first place apparently out of some fear that its attorneys are so inept that they could not prevail over angelos in whatever legal action he threatened to block the relocation from Montreal.

Posted by: Disgusted in Bethesda | February 24, 2006 1:45 PM

I agree with Mike. I can't believe that any of these suits that are making these decisions ever actually went to a game last year, and gotten an appreciation for the whole atmosphere.

Posted by: magoo | February 24, 2006 1:47 PM

the cable guys are using their monopoly to thwart viewers -- it's not fair and it has to stop. first, cable raises rates on consumers every year like clockwork. after cable raise s our rates, they hold our programming hostage. the comcast/masn situation is just another case of cable acting badly. the fcc has to stop cable from running roughshod over helpless consumers -- we can't take it any more.

Posted by: mad at cable | February 24, 2006 2:14 PM

Last time I checked Comcast still wasn't showing the games. So you might want to let the Congress on to that fact as they delve into the Telecom reform bill again. The Comcast may not want to offer the games but I bet Verizon FIOS will. The monopoly Comcast has is ending one way or another so show the games Comcast please!

Posted by: MT | February 24, 2006 3:58 PM

MLB is fielding another sorry mockery of a baseball team in Washington. This off-season has been a joke. MLB has taken a mediocre team and made it worse. I wouldn't want to watch any of their games, and certainly not all of their games. Cable is wise to not waste the bandwidth on Nats games. Better we should see a good cooking show.

I can't believe that the way MLB has treated their fan base in this city has done anything to raise the bids that a buyer would be willing to pay to own the ExpoNats. It has certainly reduced the amount that I would be willing to pay for tickets for my family.

Posted by: Who wants to see the Nats, anyway? | February 24, 2006 4:02 PM

I want to see the Nats! I didn't really get involved last year, but I've been looking forward to becoming a fan this year---to learning more about baseball, to getting to know the players (as in who plays what position, who's good etc.), and to going to games w/ friends.

So I am really mad about all the screwing around that the City Council and MLB have done. It seems to me that the area is full of people who are ready to love their team and watch it grow. It's a shame to squander that. Heaven know that, with the news these days, we need some sources of simple joy!

Posted by: THS | February 24, 2006 4:08 PM

The writing is on the wall folks. In fact it has been there all along. There will be no 2007 Nats. Contaction of the Nationals and Minnesota Twins will be announced late Spring/Early Summer. Remember that the "Baseball Expos" were purchased collectively by baseball in late 2002 as a pre-contraction buyout. This move to DC was just a way for MLB to recover some of its losses and stall till 2006 when it can legally contract 2 teams as per its last CBA with MLBPA. With a raw TV deal, the actual Nationals name in jeopardy, and the stadium lease soon to be aborted, all those $450Mil offers will be flushed out to the Potomac, and MLB will be back to square one with an expendable $120Mil franchise.

Posted by: Doug | February 24, 2006 9:24 PM

As long as the Marlins are without a baseball-only stadium, they and the Twins will be contracted before the Nats (if you believe contraction is a valid threat rather than a straw man). Despite everything that's happened here the past 1 1/2 years, this is still too valuable and affluent a market to abandon.

Posted by: Vincent | February 25, 2006 12:30 AM

"MLB has set the stage to get one of two options for DC: agree to take on more costs in order to get local ownership, or take an out-of-town owner as a compromise for MLB taking on more costs."

Mike, that is one thing baseball will never do---let another city dictate who they pick as owner. Why do you think bidding for the Nats was capped at $450 million? Wouldn't they want somebody to bid $500 or $600 million? They capped it to avoid what happened when the Red Sox were sold. The bidder MLB ultimately accepted---John Henry---did not put in the highest amount for the Sox. This raised a bruhaha because the proceeds from the sale were directed to go to the Jimmy fund. With a cap, baseball can pick who they want and nobody can say "but so-and-so was willing to pay more!"

One other thing. I don't believe John Henry comes from Massachusettes or New England. In other cities, it has not been that big a deal when people from out-of-town have bought baseball franchises. I suspect that MLB (or at least Jerry Reinsdorf) has wanted Smullyan from the very beginning, and they were genuinely surprised at the furor that erupted when rumors emerged that Smullyan was favored to get the team.

Smullyan himself tried to endear himself with fans by going on radio talk shows. That didn't help. Then he added local minority businessmen with ties to D.C. as partners. That still didn't help. He said he would give those local partners the ability to veto any move, but nobody believed him. It was only after Vincent Orange made rumblings about not approving the lease until and unless a local owner was selected that Reinsdorf (not Selig) announced that no new owner would be picked until a lease was signed.

This is why I believe that MLB hasn't picked an owner yet---they don't want D.C. to mess things up once Smullyan is named as owner. That's also why I believe they added the 30-year guarantee into the lease agreement. Why add that if the owner is a lifelong Washingtonian who has tried to get a team here for years? Because MLB would prefer to give it to a guy in Indianapolis who has never lived here and whom fans fear could move the team to Indy UNLESS THE LEASE SAYS IN WRITING THAT HE CAN'T.

This also may be a factor in why MLB has not approved the lease yet and may reject it. Malek, the Lerneres, and Ledowski have all reportedly said in private they'd be willing to pay for cost overruns. Smullyan doesn't have that much cash and isn't using his own money to buy the team. He CAN'T pay for overruns---but he is favored by owners like Jerry Reinsdorf. Will this be reason enough for MLB to kill the golden goose? Stay tuned until March 6th...

Posted by: Edward J. Cunningham | February 26, 2006 11:35 AM

Its sucks alot, enough said. But at least we got the radio. Us Washingtonians are gonna have to toughen up and go old school for a few years. Or just abandon cable and let them know how the hell we feel.

Posted by: Doug-Fairfax | February 26, 2006 7:27 PM

...Or just pay the $15 a night to watch them live. Wouldn't that be mud in Angeloser's eye -- the DC team having consistently more attendees than his Baltimore one?

Posted by: John-Arlington | February 27, 2006 3:38 PM

I don't watch baseball anymore. A waste of time and electricity. Just a bunch of pretty boys stylin for the camera.

Posted by: Modiddy | February 28, 2006 12:42 PM

If Angelos knew last year that he wasn't going to have a TV deal and still broadcast 81 games, why is he only televising 43 this year?

Posted by: Dave | February 28, 2006 3:54 PM

From what I can tell, this is all on MASN -not Comcast. This is all about Angelos and his network and sticking it to DC and Nats fans. While he may have profited from the move, he has ticked off a lot of southern Maryland residents and former O's fans.

Posted by: Tom | February 28, 2006 4:00 PM

I am glad Comcast is not carrying MASN. If they have to carry MASN, I hope they offer it as a premium channel only.

Baseball HATES DC. They only gave us the Expos after they (a) strip-mined the team of its best players, prospects and scouts, (b) held us up for a taxpayer-paid stadium, and (c) can’t wait to stick us with a non-local owner who will take the money and run with a sub-standard team in a stadium we paid for. They intentionally crippled the team by giving away its TV rights to Angelos. So patronizing Angelos’ business is acquiescing in our own betrayal.

MASN is a monopoly. So is Comcast. But Comcast didn’t spend years trying to keep baseball out of DC. (And $20M/year for DC TV rights is a joke. The Yankees were getting $50M/year TWENTY YEARS AGO – before they saw fit to start their own network and make even more money. They’re no. 1 TV market, we’re number 5, we’re not worth THAT much less. Boston’s the number 6 market and they were getting $20 M in 1999.

Posted by: stay strong Comcast | March 1, 2006 1:55 PM

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