Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 32
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

MASN battle going back before panel

The dispute between the Orioles and the Nationals over rights fees will go to arbitration this fall

The long-running media rights dispute surrounding the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, now well into its seventh year, will return this fall to Major League Baseball’s internal arbitration panel — but with a catch. 

The MASN battle between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals will be heard a second time, likely in November, by MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee after the appellate division of the New York Supreme Court last year voted unanimously to vacate a 2014 decision by that panel granting higher rights fees to the Nationals. That ruling marked a historic overturning of an internal league arbitration by an outside court.

The O’s and Nats have co-owned the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network since 2005.
Photo: getty images

But as the case is set to return to the RSDC, the Orioles-controlled MASN will retain the right to appeal directly to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, should there be an issue with the new proceedings. That will allow the Orioles to have an expedited appeal path with the court and to avoid again going through lower courts first. The case has been litigated in New York given that MLB’s headquarters are there and because that is where the RSDC arbitration happened. 

The state Supreme Court found the first RSDC hearing was unfairly biased toward the Nationals, in part due to overlapping legal representation between MLB, the Nationals and individual RSDC members. The three-person RSDC has since been reconstituted with new members: Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners President and CEO Kevin Mather, and Toronto Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro.

MASN executives previously said privately there was “no way” they would appear again before the RSDC. But that same state Supreme Court ruling last year ordered the case back before the league’s body, as opposed to an independent arbitrator. And in order for MASN to bring an appeal back before the state Court of Appeals, there needs to be something to actually appeal given the first RSDC decision no longer exists, which also necessitates the rehearing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred last month again stressed his aim to have the parties adhere to the original 2005 agreement between the league and Orioles owner Peter Angelos that created MASN. That deal called for rights fees disputes between the Nationals and Orioles to go before the RSDC.

“I’m a big guy on agreements. If you live up to your agreements, you go a long way in life,” Manfred said.

The Nationals have said more than $200 million in total is in dispute between the 2012-16 rights fee period still being litigated and another period yet to be decided for 2017-21.

In the meantime, MASN has added high-powered attorney Jonathan Schiller, managing partner of Boies Schiller Flexner, to its legal team. Schiller’s sports representations in recent years have included DraftKings, the New York Yankees and the NFL.