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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