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Judge upholds arbitration ruling that Orioles owe Nationals about $100 million in MASN TV rights dispute

Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Baseball

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles lost the latest round in the long-running Mid-Atlantic Sports Network television rights dispute Thursday when a New York judge upheld a second arbitration ruling ordering the network to pay the Washington Nationals $296.8 million in rights fees for the 2012 to 2016 seasons.

The Associated Press reported that judge Joel M. Cohen refused an Orioles request to reject the award based on a similar conflict-of-interest basis that led to the original award being overturned.

The new arbitration award is almost identical to the one that was thrown out and sent back to a new Major League Baseball arbitration panel, but the gross number is believed to include the reported $197.5 million the network already has paid the Nationals for the five seasons covered.

That would leave about $100 million still owed to the Nationals if the award survives another appeal, and the amount the Nats would actually receive likely would be reduced once MASN restates its profits from that period to reflect the higher rights fees. The judge also ruled the Orioles must pay the Nationals interest on the unpaid fees.

The Orioles have long contended the $197.5 million MASN paid the Nationals from 2012 to 2016 was consistent with the formula for determining the rights fees contained in the original contract agreed to by both clubs and MLB when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005.

The 2005 agreement was weighted toward the Orioles -- giving the team a bigger ownership stake in MASN and a proportionately larger share of the profits -- after the team argued the Nationals' arrival in the region deprived Baltimore of a third of its market.

 

Orioles attorneys have long contended in court documents that MLB has been trying to unravel the 2005 agreement, which allowed the Nationals to move from Montreal that year.

Thursday's ruling did not come as a surprise. The Baltimore Sun reported in May that the arbitration panel had made its decision in favor of the Nationals. The Sun, citing people familiar with the case, reported the Nats would net from $60 million to $70 million when all adjustments were made.

MASN is expected to exercise the "reserve appeal" included in the original court ruling to send the case to the New York Court of Appeals.

According to a person with knowledge of the litigation, the Orioles retained a right to appeal, but could not exercise it until this second arbitration process was complete.

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