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The Hundred Years War (Over TV Sports)

Washington area viewers now seem destined to finish out a second year without being able to see Nationals baseball games on TV, thanks to the endless battle between the Comcast cable behemoth and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Angelos snared the rights to Nats TV coverage as part of the blood money he got for not suing Major League Baseball over the birth of the Nats.

This week, Angelos moved to bolster his argument that his Mid Atlantic Sports Network is a real sports channel that Comcast ought to carry by launching MASN as a 24-hour operation. Until now, it has come on the air only to broadcast the Nats games and was dark the rest of the day and night.

But now, MASN claims its schedule is "an impressive mix of live professional and collegiate games, original programming, simulcasted sports-talk radio and syndicated sports programming."

Here's another way of putting it: Far be it from me to side with Comcast on anything, but the cable company's argument that MASN is overpriced makes an awful lot of sense when Angelos is offering up Canadian football, tapes of 1970s Orioles games, and a simulcast of a Baltimore radio sports talk show as the contents of his Washington-area sports channel. The actual broadcasts of Nats games remain a strong product, with the superb Bob Carpenter handling play by play and the genial and strategy-savvy ex-player Tom Paciorek along as a very useful commentator.

But once the game is over, MASN becomes one of the schlockiest sports channels around, and that is saying a lot. Here's MASN's program schedule for yesterday:

12:00 AM MLB Nationals Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants LIVE

1:00 AM MASN Nationals Post Game

1:30 AM Paid Programming

6:00 AM MLB - Nationals Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants Rebroadcast 8/1

9:00 AM Orioles Classic 1970 World Series Cincinnati Reds @ Orioles Game #3

12:00 PM Canadia Football League Calgary at Saskatchewan

3:00 PM This Week in Baseball

3:30 PM MLB - Nationals Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants LIVE

6:30 PM MASN - NATIONALS POST GAME

7:00 PM Anita Marks Show ESPN 1300 Baltimore

10:00 PM MLB Nationals Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants rebroadcast 8/2

Pretty impressive, huh? Rather than talking about the baseball team that the network actually covers, MASN feeds Washington viewers a dose of all-Baltimore sports talk starring a former Playboy bunny and quarterback for the Miami women's football team. Remember, Angelos is of the belief that there are no baseball fans in Washington (this surely explains why the Nats are easily outdrawing the Orioles.) Now, Angelos seems to have expanded his theory to contend that there are no sports fans in Washington. Surely, D.C. area fans would rather watch sports talk programs about Baltimore's measly complement of sports teams rather than programs about the Redskins, Nationals, Wizards, Capitals, Mystics or United.

MASN will also show Baltimore Ravens pre-season games. In fact, even watching a Nats game on MASN can now be a jarring and bizarre trip to Baltimore. The ads are for stores on streets no one in the Washington region has ever heard of; they're somewhere in Baltimore. Apparently, Angelos and his spot salesmen are under the impression that there are no businesses in the Washington area, either.

Early hopes that the Lerner family, the new owner of the Nationals franchise, would address the TV problem have not yet panned out. Despite a finding by the Federal Communications Commission this week that Comcast may have discriminated against MASN by choosing not to carry its broadcasts of Nationals games, there is no urgency on the federal regulators' part. The commission has granted itself a leisurely 120 days to review any decision by an arbitrator or judge, who first would take up to 45 days to determine whether Comcast or MASN is in the right in their dispute. So Comcast subscribers can kiss the rest of this season goodbye.

There's no reason for sports fans to believe that this two-year battle will come to an end as long as Angelos continues his quixotic war against baseball in Washington. Will Angelos at some point come to realize that by orienting his TV network almost entirely toward the minority of potential viewers who live in the Baltimore area, he is deepening his own losses? Maybe, but any fair reckoning of Angelos' management of the Orioles and the TV deal with the Nationals shows that making money seems less important to him than having things his way.

The very tough task facing the Lerners is to make it worth Angelos' while to grant them some say in the most crucial piece of their teams' appeal to potential fans--the TV broadcasts of the games. Maybe the Lerners could offer to protect Angelos by tacking a surcharge on tickets sold to fans from Washington's Maryland suburbs. Oh wait, I forgot--there are no baseball fans in the Washington region.

By Marc Fisher |  August 3, 2006; 7:39 AM ET
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Comments

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Marc,

I caught a 10 minute segment of the Anita Marks Show after yesterday's Nats/Giants game on MASN. As a Washington area sports fan (Nats/Skins/Terps/etc.) I found nothing Ms. Marks had to offer worth my time. I don't care about the bOrioles or the other Bawlmor team, the Ravens. Baltimore is a two sports franchise town that doesn't hold a candle to the DC area sports world.

The sooner the Lerner's are free from Angelos' MASN grasp the better. But let's put blame where it is deserved in this entire debacle. Blame the moron who runs MLB, Bud Selig, for this MASN mess. Selig is the one who sold out the Nats television rights to Angelos. The only way this is going to be resolved is through litigation which will unfortunately only serve to make this mess worse and take longer to fix.

Posted by: KP | August 3, 2006 8:28 AM

Pure and simple, Angelos is baseball kryptonite.

Posted by: Orioles Fan | August 3, 2006 8:50 AM

Patience, Marc. Is everything supposed to happen at internet speed?

This is the Lerners' problem, not ours. In order to build a fan base, they'll solve it. And, anyway, who wants to watch the present team -- in person or on TV? They're building for the future, and we can plan to watch the games in the future.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | August 3, 2006 9:56 AM

One possible way around the TV rights issue would be for the Lerners to sidestep Tv broadcasting all together and move the game coverage to an internet video delivery strategy. I'm sure the most wired area in the country would have no problem watching the Nats on their computers.

Posted by: Tom | August 3, 2006 11:09 AM

And when we're done talking about cable transmissions of games, can we then talk about actual broadcast?

We don't have cable. We love the Nationals - we have a 20 game ticket package. At the moment, we watch the games through MLB's subscription internet service. That option will go away once the games are on cable, and we'll be faced with either paying obscene amounts of money to the cable companies, or not seeing games. We'll end up not seeing games, and that will make us sad. Some real over-the-air actual broadcast games would be so nice.

Posted by: sfw | August 3, 2006 11:47 AM

I've long thought the solution is to go with one of the better things the Nationals have going for them: one of the best series of blogs in major league baseball. In adition to general blogs, there are subject specific blogs ranging from sites talking just about Nationals injuries to perhaps the best farm system blog anywhere. What with bloggers (myself included) being natural attention seekers, it would seem a simple matter of throwing together several of them into a working unit and using them to produce a TV series. While not all of us have faces for television, the bloggers could serve as both anchors, commentators, editors, and even the research staff. Pull together a few, pay them a decent but not eye popping salary, and the whole thing could likely be produced on the cheap, since there would be very little need for supplimental staff.

Posted by: David | August 3, 2006 11:52 AM

Here's another example of how Angelos is keeping the Nats off the air. When I am in Williamsburg, if the Nats are playing the Braves and the game is telecast by WTBS, the game is blacked out, (home or away) even though it is available nowhere else on the cable system. In this case, Angelos is using his TV rights just to keep the Nats off the air. Thus, the only long term solution is for the Lerners to get the TV rights for the Nats.

Posted by: Fred | August 3, 2006 1:28 PM

To be fair, Comcast Sportsnet isn't exactly ESPN either. When they're not broadcasting games, CSN's lineup is just as bad. And CSN sure seems to prefer talking about the Ravens more (although that may be the fault of one Dan "$25 for parking" Snyder.

Posted by: tallbear | August 3, 2006 1:39 PM

This is why Angelos is about the most evil guy on the planet. If he died tomorrow, I don't think anyone outside of his family would shed one tear.

From stealing 1/4 of Maryland's tobacco settlement money to his screwing of DC's baseball audience merely because he's afraid of the competition (which would only HELP; look at Mets-Yanks, Chisox-Cubs....competition is GOOD, idiot!).

Peter A is so typical of lawyers. Get the money, and screw everyone else.

Posted by: JD | August 3, 2006 1:45 PM

A suggestion to Comcast: Pay off Cuban Pete with a goodly one-time sum (unless he demands something ridiculously overpriced), purchase MASN and rebrand it as CSN 2, keeping Orioles broadcasts there (they are supposed to move to MASN in '07) and making the original CSN the Nats' home. Give the Nationals and Orioles an equal, rising percentage of CSN revenue.

Posted by: Vincent | August 3, 2006 1:47 PM

Agreed, tallbear. Regional sports networks always have a pretty miserable line-up outside of whatever local games they show. Currently showing on YES (the Yankees' network): The travel experiences of a group of Yankees fans hitting the road to every Yankees game in 2006. And NESN (the Red Sox's network) is showing infomercials.

I imagine that at some point, this will end, but only through binding arbitration or litigation. No way these two stubborn morons (Comcast and Angelos) can agree on anything, even a result that would be in both their financial interests (even if it meant taking a hit to their pride).

Posted by: OD | August 3, 2006 3:03 PM

The problem with putting the games on the Internet is that I think these have to go through MLB, thus highlighting the grip MLB has on this whole situation. This is also why you can't get a streaming broadcast through the Washington Post Radio website during games!

My 10-year-old son, who plays baseball and soccer and loves both sports equally, is becoming more of a DC United fan than a Nationals fan because he sees DC United play on TV and he starts recognizing the players and their strengths and weaknesses. For those of us who can't afford to go to many games (due to time or money constraints), watching the local team on TV is the best way to become a fan of the team. This is not possible for those of us living in Comcastland.

Posted by: dsmac | August 3, 2006 3:03 PM

Good point about the comparison to Comcast's local sports channel. Here's the Comcast program lineup for today--a day when the Orioles are off. There's plenty of shlock in the schedule, but there are two key differences between this and MASN: 1) There's a bunch of programming from Fox that adds value you won't find on MASN, and 2) most importantly, there's a local sports news program that has lots of material on both D.C. and Baltimore area teams.
6:00am SportsRise
10:00am Paid Programming: WorldLink
2:00pm FLW Outdoor '06 #27 Walleye Tour at Devils Lake from Spirit Lake, ND
3:00pm Paid Programming: WorldLink
4:00pm The Sports List #18
4:30pm In Focus on FSN
5:00pm PRIDE Fighting Championships #2
6:00pm In Focus on FSN
6:30pm SportsNite (L)
7:00pm Minor League Baseball: Durham Bulls @ Richmond Braves (L)
10:00pm SportsNite (L)
11:00pm Orioles All Access
11:30pm The FSN Final Score (L)
12:00am The Best Damn Sports Show Period (L)
1:00am SportsNite
1:30am Minor League Baseball: Durham Bulls @ Richmond Braves (E)
4:30am In Focus on FSN (E)

Posted by: Fisher | August 3, 2006 3:10 PM

Hey fisher, anyway to get a thread to talk about clarendon. it sort of got left out in the cold since it was an article and not on the blog.

Posted by: Ann Arbor | August 3, 2006 3:55 PM

I am no Angelos supporter, but I am an Orioles fan through and through. I would do anything to see Angelos sell the team. Honestly. He's bad news for the Birds. BUT, I do not think it is fair to blame him for the Nats' tv fiasco. Angelos got himself an amazing, other-worldly good deal when MLB caved to his demands and gave him the Nats' broadcast rights. Would anyone, when presented with a dream offer, walk away? MLB should be scolded for folding. And they should force Angelos to accept a lesser deal. It's a partnership and Angelos is but one vote. If MLB stands up to him, things for the Nats will improve.

Also, in your chat today you claimed that Angelos scuttled a 3-way trade just before the trade deadline. This is inaccurate. Houston pulled out Oswalt from the negotiations and a deal never even made it to Angelos' desk (given the O's woes in the bullpen, a top-tier starter was all they wanted so everyone, especially Houston, knew the deal would die when Oswalt was gone from the equation).

Again in the chat, you claimed that the Nats are "outdrawing" the O's. That's not really a fair assessment and I think gives an inaccurate view. They draw about even (and I'm ignoring that the greater-DC area is more populous than the greater-B'more area). The O's draw about 25,000 paid. The Nats draw 27,000 paid.

Posted by: Andrea | August 3, 2006 4:07 PM

Fortunately for me my building is wired for Comcast and RCN. Of course, I switched to RCN immediately last year.

Seeing the new MASN lineup is a joke. I could care less about any sports from Baltimore.

More importantly in my view, is the fact that MASN only has one channel on any existing cable system. So the big question is when Baltimore moves to MASN next season, which team will be televised when they play at the same time?

There are no guarantees that they will be able to secure over the air coverage throughout the region for a second channel to distribute games that occur simultaneously.

Baseball should have let the Nats be broadcast on Comcast, and they could have still let Peter the Pig have his MASN channel and then the market could determine which team and channel they wanted to watch.

Posted by: KG | August 4, 2006 1:11 AM

Given the Baltimore-centric orientation of MASN, KG asks the most important question: What happens when (and if) MASN gets the right to carry both the Orioles and Nationals starting next season?

No one has yet offered an answer to this most basic, obvious question.

Also it is clear that Angelos is using his broadcast rights, which extend down to the Carolinas, to prevent the Nationals from building a following in those areas either on cable or over-the-air.

The Lerners will have a very difficult time breaking the deal that MLB made with Angelos creating MASN. I thought from day one that optimism on that score was misplaced. They will have no leverage over Angelos unless he starts losing lots of money on MASN, and even then, he may consider it a worthwhile investment in the protection of his own franchise. Any litigation over the deal creating MASN (and I can't think of a theory likely to succeed given baseball's immunity from the antitrust laws) would take years and would invite counterclaims from Angelos that MLB violated his broadcast territorial rights. Remember, it was because MLB viewed that threat sufficiently credible that they handed Angelos the Nats broadcast rights to begin with.

For the foreseeable future, the best thing that could happen for Nats fans would be for Comcast to win its suit and for Comcast Sports retain the Orioles. At that point, Comcast's objections to carrying MASN would presumably be ended, MASN would be free to carry the Nats without schedule conflicts with the O's, and everyone would be (reasonably) happy. Unfortunately, so far, Comcast keeps losing in the courts.

Posted by: Meridian | August 4, 2006 8:41 AM

So, we're dying to know: who won the Calgary/Saskatchewan game? I'm more of a Tigercats (or even Argos) fan, eh, but..

Posted by: Dieter Flutie | August 4, 2006 10:04 AM

"what happens when O's broadcasts move to MASN next year?"

In a rational world, MASN would then sell a package of O's and Nats games to Comcast SportsNet. Or they would buy airtime on CSN (allowing them to keep all ad revenue).

I believe this is how the ACC basketball TV rights work. IIRC JP Sports technically owns the rights and sells rebroadcast rights to ESPN, Fox and CBS which is why the ESPN broadcast of Duke/MD is blacked out in favor of channel 20.

Since this is not a rational world and Peter Angelos is involved, who knows what will happen.

Posted by: tallbear | August 4, 2006 10:24 AM

Can anyone please tell me how this deal will affect those of us that do not have cable? Will WDCA(20) still show games? I think they've had about 25 games scheduled for this season. It is the only way, besides the radio or going to the stadium, for me to watch the guys. Thanks!

Posted by: Maureen | August 4, 2006 11:44 AM

In a rational business world tallbear would be right. However, the acrimony and animosity that has developed between Comcast and MASN is such that I don't believe Comcast would accept a package from MASN no matter what the price.

Our region does not need two sports networks. Especially one as bad as MASN.

Also, I believe MLB actually owns all the baseball television rights across the country. What they do is say to each team OK we are granting you the right to sell your team on TV in a territorial market wchich MLB defines.

At any time, MLB reserves all rights to all teams TV rights. This is necessary for example when teams move so territories can be carved out and remade.

For example there is already discussion that if Florida moves to San Antonio, how the "shared" market will be handled. Simple, the Astros and San Antonio will be broadcast on two different regional sports networks.

MLB could have let Peter have MASN and let the Baltimore games be televised there. MLB could have then allowed the Nats rights for a period of time(say five years) go to Comcast.

The problem all along and still today is that Angelos believes that the market from Pennsylvania to NC belongs to him. And that is the fundamental problem, and until he leaves or someone gets him to see the light it will be a problem for the Lerners and the Nats.

And why is the Baltimore store in Farragut North still there? We should open up a Nats store on the Inner Harbor.

Posted by: KG | August 4, 2006 3:12 PM

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