O's majority owner of TV network

Deal protects Orioles, Angelos says

April 01, 2005|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

A new regional sports network majority owned by the Orioles will have the authority to present all of the Orioles and Washington Nationals games under the terms of an agreement announced yesterday between the team and Major League Baseball.

The deal, which had been negotiated for more than six months, assures the future of the franchise in Baltimore, according to owner Peter Angelos.

"My objective throughout this entire effort has been to protect the Orioles' franchise now and for the future, and what has been discussed over the past several months has been focused on that goal," Angelos said in a statement. "The settlement addresses that need for protection and helps ensure the viability of the Orioles' franchise."

The agreement doesn't affect this year's Orioles' television schedule.

Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based consulting company SportsCorp, said Angelos did the best he could have hoped for.

"A win would have been no team moving to Washington," he said. "If you make the assumption that the team is in Washington, then this kind of arrangement gives the Orioles the opportunity to try to retain their market position on a long-term basis."

When reached at his law offices yesterday, Angelos declined to comment further.

The owner wouldn't say what percentage of the new venture the Orioles hold, but a source said it was a significant majority, perhaps approaching two-thirds over time. Before yesterday, speculation had the Orioles owning no more than 60 percent of the network.

In a statement, commissioner Bud Selig said he believed the agreement "satisfies the competing interests with which we've had to contend to place a team in the nation's capital."

Selig also praised "my friend, Peter Angelos.

"He was relentless in his desire to preserve and protect the Baltimore Orioles' franchise now, and for future generations," the statement said. "His concerns, which he expressed often and well, were not about himself or his ownership interest, but rather to establish a means by which to ensure the future viability of the Orioles' franchise. I don't know many other people who would have fought so vigorously for such purposes."

Angelos' fight began in earnest in September, when, after a search process that lasted more than two years, MLB announced the Montreal Expos would be relocated to Washington. The Orioles' owner bitterly opposed the move, saying it would cost his team between $30 million and $50 million a year in revenue and would ultimately result in two mediocre franchises.

The agreement was sealed over the past two weeks, with Alan Rifkin, an attorney for the Orioles, in New York for six straight days of face-to-face talks with MLB president Bob DuPuy.

DuPuy did not return phone calls seeking a comment.

The creation of the regional sports network - tentatively called the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network - was the key to the deal.

Both the Orioles and Nationals will license their broadcast rights to the network. And even though the license runs as long as the Nationals are in Washington, sources said, the network will negotiate a fair-market rights fee with the team on a regular basis.

In the announcement, MLB said that in addition to a fair price, it would guarantee the Nationals "normal protections concerning the quality and frequency of telecasts."

The Nationals have an over-the-air TV deal in place for this season that will put about 75 games on two Washington stations - WTTG/Channel 5, the Fox affiliate, and WDCA/Channel 20, the UPN affiliate. Both stations are owned by Fox.

It was unclear yesterday how many games each station would carry. Sources said a majority would be on WDCA, which is not available on cable systems in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore and Harford counties or in the city of Baltimore.

WTTG is available in all of Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties.

Duffy Dyer, general manager of both stations, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Officials from both baseball and the Orioles said they hope to have a deal to show additional Nationals games on cable television, but a spokesman for Comcast said yesterday that there have been no substantial talks.

"There was a meeting held earlier [yesterday] in Philadelphia with representatives of Comcast, Major League Baseball and the Orioles," said David Nevins, the spokesman. "I would categorize that meeting as introductory in nature and not serious in any way, shape or form in terms of negotiations."

The Orioles' contract with Comcast SportsNet, which is primarily owned by Comcast, runs through the 2006 season.

When that deal is up, the Orioles' hope is to have a regional sports network that would show the games of both teams throughout the teams' broadcast territory, which stretches from south-central Pennsylvania to Charlotte, N.C.

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