WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals are heading into one of the most pivotal hot stove seasons in franchise history, but their dispute with MASN remains active on the back burner.
On Thursday, the New York Court of Appeals threw out an appeal by MASN to overturn the July ruling in favor of the Nationals. At stake is nearly $300 million in broadcast rights fees from 2013-16 which the court ruled should be awarded to the team.
The outcome of this latest failed appeal is that the issue will be sent back to MLB’s internal arbitration panel to determine and enforce the fees.
The Baltimore Orioles, who are the majority owners of MASN as part of an agreement with MLB to allow the Nats to move to Washington, have hotly contested the rights fees for years.
Unfortunately, however, the Nats are not yet out of the woods. According to the Washington Business Journal, MASN has already refiled its appeal in a different form. MASN attorney Thomas Hall chalked Thursday’s news up to a “different procedural route.”
At the time that the Nats moved to D.C., the team was owned by Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig was eager to reintroduce a team to the market, from Montreal.
Because of the rigid regional rights in MLB, plunking a team in the heart of Baltimore’s region was a sticking point, one that MLB solved by giving the O’s extensive rights to the Nats TV broadcast rights.
The O’s have claimed that within these rights is the ability to assign the value of the rights fees, which must match “fair market value.”
“Fair” is the operative word, and it has cost the Nats upwards of $100 million per season in recent years.
Given how much the economics of television rights have changed in recent years, this has been a distinct disadvantage for the Nats, although the Lerner family ownership has still spent freely in order to compete.
Now with upcoming negotiations for star outfielder Bryce Harper and a high payroll elsewhere, it’s possible that the Orioles could have a significant effect on the Nats’ long-term prospects.