Monday, June 20, 2005

Here Come Da Judge

I've tried to stay out of the MASN mess for two reasons. 1) I'm not an expert on the legal issues surrounding it; and 2) Both sides lie through their teeth.

But, over the last week or so, there have been some interesting developments.

You know the background. The Orioles own MASN, which owns the broadcasting rights to the Nats (and the Nats own a tiny share of the network). Comcast, which has its own regional sports network Comcast SportsNet (CSN), is suing the Orioles, claiming a breach of contract. They claim that the Orioles didn't give CSN the chance to use its contractual right to match any third-party offers. While the suit is ongoing, Comcast refuses to air the Nats games.

But, the blank screen most of us are getting could've told us that.

As the lawsuit churns forward to its first hearing on July 27, the Orioles have opened up a new front: the FCC.

They've appealed to the FCC, asking them to air Washington Nationals games while the squabble continues in the legal system.

At first glance, it might not seem like much, but Eric Fisher wrote that the underlying issues of Comcast owning a competitor, CSN, might make this a little more tricky, noting that
FCC rules prohibit cable and satellite operators from deciding which channels to carry based on their corporate affiliation. And beyond Comcast's well-documented frustration with the Orioles and its opposition of a second regional sports network for Washington and Baltimore, the company has yet to explain fully why it will not cut a short-term deal with MASN to show the Nationals while it litigates the CSN lawsuit.

Local Gadfly/ Astronomer/ Patron Saint/ 42-time Emmy Winner Jim Williams scored a pair of interviews with representatives from Comcast and the Orioles that added a lot of details to the few things we know.

The dispute centers around the definition of a third-party.

CSN's contract to carry the Orioles dates way back to 1996. It included a provision that allowed CSN (then Home Team Sports, HTS) to match any third-party offers for the Nats broadcasts.

Comcast is claiming that MASN is a third-party creation. Whereas the Orioles claim that MASN is just a repackaged arm of TCR:
TCR is the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. They are the same company. Simply put, MASN is the registered trade name of TCR. They are now and have always been the same company. So the assertion that MASN is a new or third party entity is absolutely false. TCR, known to many as O's TV prior to taking on the name MASN, has been producing the over the air Orioles games since 2002.

I'm not going to make any guess as to the merits of either side on that one.
Comcast is supposed to have an exclusive negotiatiting window through 11/05. But, both sides agreed to walk away from that contract. This point does not appear to be in dispute.

But, in the Comcast interview, the Comcast spokesman believes that the Orioles have already bargained away their right for a MASN-type network.

I'm paraphrasing to cut through the legalese, but in 1994 (two years before the current contract went into effect), the Orioles had included a provision that specifically claimed that a MASN-style network fell outside the bounds of HTS's match clause. That is, a team-owned MASN network was specifically permissable.

In 1996 (the current contract), that clause was dropped. According to the Comcast lawyer, this gave the Orioles more money. He's essentially claiming they bought that escape clause out. As such, he feels that MASN is illegal according to the terms of the contract.

Obviously, I haven't read the contracts and I'm certainly not a lawyer, but does just eliminating a clause from a prior contract prohibit something in a future contract? If Comcast REALLY wanted to prevent a MASN-like exodus, wouldn't they include terms that expressly forbid that in the contract?

I suspect, because we haven't heard anything about it, that the contract doesn't expressly forbid a MASN-like team-owned TV contract. As such, that line of argument seems like a smoke screen and some lawyerly spinning, which is not unusual for this sort of case.

There have been a few other things bandied about, most notably that Comcast claims that they had offered more than the $20 MM that the Nationals are getting from MASN. But, again, is that just posturing, trying to get an already enraged public to turn against Angelos further? Who knows.

That's why I've tried to stay out of these things. There's spinning from both sides. You have to wade through a ton of BS to get at what the truth is.

But, what we do know is that we're the ones who are being punished.


  • At the risk of going to the shallow end and off topic, I'd like to see 'em work this out so either Comcast shows games, or MASN gets more money for equipment. Their picture and audio quality leave a lot to be desired. The sound keeps switching channels and dropping volume, and the video is ghosty....

    By Blogger GCA, at 6/22/2005 11:10 AM  

  • If I had to bet, I'd imagine that MASN merges with Comcast.

    You're right in that Comcast's productions are LIGHT YEARS better than MASN's.

    MASN is done by the same group that does the O'S TV productions that always looked like they were being filmed by Aunt Doris' camcorder.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 6/22/2005 11:13 AM  

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