Negotiators for the Orioles and Major League Baseball inched ever closer last night to an agreement that would financially protect the franchise from the new competition it faces in its market and pave the way for the Washington Nationals' games to be televised throughout the region.
Alan Rifkin, an attorney who is representing the Orioles in the face-to-face talks at baseball's Park Avenue headquarters in New York, sounded optimistic last night.
"We made an enormous amount of progress," he said.
Talks will resume this morning.
MLB president Bob DuPuy did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Rifkin spent all of last week in New York, and the sides met for six straight days beginning March 21. No talks were held Sunday.
The negotiations have centered on how much the Orioles Television Network would pay to the Nationals for the rights to show their games. Another issue is how much equity - if any - the new Nationals owners would have in the network.
The talks began six months ago as baseball decided to relocate the Montreal Expos to the nation's capital. Orioles owner Peter Angelos bitterly opposed the move, saying it would create two mediocre franchises.
Angelos was also upset at commissioner Bud Selig, who had said many times during baseball's search for a new home for the Expos that he would do nothing to hurt the Orioles' franchise.
In the talks, Selig has been trying to juggle the obligation he feels to Angelos with his obligation to baseball's 28 other owners.
MLB bought the Expos for $120 million in February 2002 and has operated them since.
With the team now in Washington, which plans to build it a new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront in Southeast D.C., baseball hopes to sell the Nationals to new owners for at least $350 million. At least seven groups have put down the required $100,000 deposit with MLB to be considered for ownership of the club.
But without a local broadcast deal in place, the sale process has slowed.
Angelos wants the Nationals to be a part of the Orioles Television Network, which would pay them a fair market value fee - about $25 million a year - for the rights to show their games.
In the early 1980s, MLB granted the Orioles exclusive rights to a broadcast territory that stretches from south-central Pennsylvania to Charlotte, N.C. Angelos' group inherited that territory when it bought the team for $173 million in 1993.
Baseball has been hesitant to do anything that might reduce the Nationals' potential broadcast earnings, which could translate into a lower sales price for the team.