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Volume 20 No. 45


MLB is looking to make a final decision on the ongoing media rights fee dispute between the Washington Nationals and MASN in the coming weeks, with the issue moving forward on an accelerated course.

A ruling may arrive soon after owners’ meetings slated for May 16-17 in New York, according to several industry sources. The Nationals and MASN, majority owned and controlled by the neighboring Baltimore Orioles, have been negotiating a new deal since the end of last baseball season, when a contractual reset provision was triggered. Unable to reach a deal amid a red-hot market for sports TV rights, the team and the RSN took their dispute to a league-created ad hoc committee of owners for the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays to come up with a solution.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for labor relations and human resources, is leading the committee. It is not clear how the panel is leaning at present.

The committee’s job is to decide how much of an increase MASN should pay the Nationals. Currently, MASN pays the team around $29 million a year. The Nationals also hold a 13 percent equity stake in the regional sports network, accruing at an additional 1 percent per year and ultimately peaking at 33 percent.

The Nationals are using high-powered consultants — including the Proskauer law firm and Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures — with a goal of landing a rights fee increase similar to the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres, who signed 20-year deals with Fox Sports Net worth an estimated $3 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively.

MASN’s deals with the Nationals and Orioles, however, contain a couple of clauses that are complicating matters, sources said.

One is a reset clause that allows the Nationals to reopen the deal every five years to ensure that they’re being paid the market rate. The current negotiations are a result of that clause being triggered. Given big rights fees increases in other markets, it seems likely that the Nationals stand to make a healthy increase. The question is how much.

That leads to another complication, though. MASN’s contracts include parity clauses mandating that if the Nationals get a big increase from its reset period, the Orioles’ rights fee automatically moves to that figure. That means MASN would have to pay both teams a bigger rights fee if the Nationals prevail. And that new figure for the club’s combined rights fees conceivably could exceed the revenue the 7-year-old network earns from cable carriage fees and advertising.

The timing, however, for the rights fee reset for the Nationals remains particularly good. In addition to the surging rights fee market, the club at deadline was in first place in the NL East and featured budding stars including pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper.

MLB and Nationals executives declined to comment.

MLB negotiated the Nationals’ initial rights deal when it operated the franchise in 2005. The deal gave Orioles owner Peter Angelos 90 percent ownership of MASN, a way to alleviate the Orioles owner’s concern that the relocation of the Nationals from Montreal to Washington would harm his club.

NFL Network is considering launching a live morning studio show this summer and has begun the process of identifying possible hosts and reporters.

Marc Watts is the new director of media talent for NFL Media.
The network hired Marc Watts to fill a new position as director of media talent for NFL Media. Watts, who started April 23, said his first order of business is to find “four fresh faces” that could be used for such a show.

Specific plans for the morning show have not been finalized, including its name or its time slot. But NFL executives said they hope to get the early morning show ready as soon as July to coincide with the beginning of training camp.

“We’re looking to get on during earlier dayparts when all this breaking news is happening,” NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger said last Wednesday, the same day New Orleans Saints player suspensions were announced in the morning. “Mornings are going to become a big daypart for us.”

Currently, NFL Network shows library footage or re-airs programming in the morning.

The network is making an effort to increase the number of live hours in other time slots, too. Weinberger said the network is considering starting its in-season Sunday pregame coverage earlier and is looking to add live hours to prime time, too.

“The demand for NFL content is extraordinary,” Weinberger said, pointing to NFL draft viewership, which drew 8.1 million total viewers to ESPN and NFL Network on the event’s first day this year.

The network’s live studio programming generally runs from 5 to 8 p.m. on weekdays during the season, but other networks have showed the benefits of going live in the morning. ESPN now runs “SportsCenter” throughout the morning, and Golf Channel has found success with its morning news show, “Morning Drive.”

The moves are not necessarily ratings grabs. Rather, they allow the networks to react to breaking news more quickly. Last week, for example, the channel was repeating a recap of the NFL draft when the Saints’ suspensions were announced. After a few minutes, it broke into the program to cover the suspensions. With a morning program, the channel would have been able to cover the announcement as it happened.

“It would allow us to be much more nimble,” Weinberger said.

The NFL hired Watts to recruit and coach on-air talent for the channel. In addition to recruiting new faces to the channel, Watts said he will train and print reporters to be better on TV.

“Typically with print reporters, I have to teach them how to speak in an active voice,” Watts said. “I’ve been brought in to improve how they present themselves. If they want to work on television, I can make them better.”

Watts was an on-air reporter and anchor for CNN in the 1990s. He later became an agent, representing broadcasters including CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux and Roland Martin.

“We have a talent roster that has grown so big that we need a professional to help us on-air,” Weinberger said. “Marc does that.”