By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, I see that an appeals court ruled against MASN in the Washington Nationals court battle. Does this mean the case is over and MASN has to pay the Nationals now? — Justin, Reisterstown, Maryland.
Justin, is it over? Of course not. This is MASN, owned by the Peter Angelos family. With the Angelos, who also own the Baltimore Orioles, it’s never over until it’s over, and perhaps not even then. Let me explain.
The New York State Court of Appeals ruled 6-0 (a shutout!) that MASN must pay past rights fees to the Washington Nationals which could total as much as $100 million. The two sides have been fighting over the fees for roughly a decade and perhaps even longer than that when you consider the Orioles and MASN were not enamored with the Montreal Expos relocating to Washington, D.C. in 2005 and becoming the Nationals.
Despite multiple rulings in favor of the Nationals by MLB arbitrators, and court judges, MASN has kept the case alive over the years with appeal after appeal. But yesterday’s ruling seems to finally put a ninth inning to the legal question of whether MASN owes the money to the Nationals. It does, and at some point, it has to pay up. MASN could take the case to the Supreme Court, but legal experts yesterday said it’s unlikely the high court would even consider it.
But Judge Madeline Singas yesterday made the baseball world cringe a bit by saying in her opinion that the payment issue could still go “into extra innings.”
“The parties must resolve any disputes over nonpayment of those fees in accordance with their agreement. While it is unfortunate that our decision may send this protracted litigation into extra innings, that result is necessitated by the settlement agreement’s terms,” she wrote. (You can read the entire opinion here.)
That means that MASN and the Nationals must now negotiate a final settlement and that could wind up before yet another arbitrator. MASN and the Nationals, which own a 33 percent stake in the channel, are hardly cordial partners so this could take awhile. Then, if MASN doesn’t like the result, it’s not inconceivable that the channel declares bankruptcy, Diamond Sports style, to avoid the full payment. Like other RSNs, MASN has been losing subscribers over the last several years due to declining cable and satellite subscriptions.
The MASN mess has been a major reason why the Washington Nationals ownership has not sold the team in the last year and it’s unclear if yesterday’s ruling will help that process or simply further delay it. Any prospective owner presumably will want some clarity on MASN before paying full market value.
Bottom Line: MASN lost yesterday in a blowout, but the channel has the means to make the next game uncomfortable and time consuming for the Nationals, even if MASN can’t win it. Once again, the issues of a regional sports network will make MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred have trouble sleeping at night.
Justin, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann