O's ask Comcast suit be dropped

Legal motion says club didn't violate cable deal in new regional package

June 14, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for the Orioles filed a motion yesterday to dismiss a Comcast SportsNet lawsuit against the club and Major League Baseball, labeling as baseless the cable station's claims that the Orioles are violating a 9-year-old broadcast contract.

"The Orioles could not be more comfortable that everything they've done is within the letter and spirit of any contracts relating to broadcast rights," said Arnold Weiner, one of the attorneys representing the club.

The lawsuit says that the Orioles' move to broadcast games on the regional Mid-Atlantic Sports Network violates Comcast's exclusive rights to negotiate an extension of its Orioles television rights, which expire after next season.

If no deal is reached by November, court documents say, the contract gives Comcast the right to match any offer the Orioles receive from a third party.

But lawyers for the Orioles and owner Peter G. Angelos argue the MASN is another name for TCR Sports, the club's broadcasting arm, and not a third party covered by the deal with Comcast.

"CSN's assumption is plainly mistaken, because MASN is simply a registered trade name of TCR, and TCR has not licensed the Orioles programming to any third party," reads the motion, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court. "With that mistaken foundation exposed, CSN's ... complaint collapses."

Comcast officials said they're confident a Circuit Court judge will see MASN as a third party because Major League Baseball purchased a 10 percent share of the network.

"MASN is owned jointly by the Oriole and MLB and as such, it is clearly a third party," said D'Arcy Rudnay, a spokeswoman for Comcast Corp. "The Orioles have breached their contract."

Attorneys for the Orioles also say in the motion that Comcast SportsNet filed the lawsuit only after Comcast Corp. failed to secure a piece of MASN.

"This lawsuit is CSN's attempt to achieve through meritless litigation what it could not obtain through failed negotiations," the motion says.

Rudnay replied, "We have never sought equity in MASN in any way, and we are not interested in equity in MASN."

The Orioles and Major League Baseball agreed to partner in a regional network as part of negotiations relating to the move of the Montreal Expos to Washington.

The Orioles own 90 percent of MASN under the deal, struck in April. The Washington Nationals could eventually own as much as a third of the network.

Comcast SportsNet has suspended negotiations to broadcast MASN-produced Nationals games pending the resolution of a lawsuit it filed against the Orioles and Major League Baseball.

Thus, Comcast subscribers in the Washington area (the company holds franchise rights for most of the region) will see only Nationals games already carried on Washington stations WTTG/Channel 5 and WDCA/Channel 20, as well as the few games nationally broadcast.

"They want to be a spoiler in issues that have nothing to do with their case," Weiner said.

Rudnay said Comcast has always wanted to strike a deal to broadcast Nationals games.

"Our suit is not aimed at the Nationals," she said.

Comcast filed the suit in late April. Earlier this month, attorneys for the Orioles filed a motion to stop proceedings in the Comcast case.

In a response, Williams & Connolly LLP, the Washington attorneys representing Comcast, called that motion "long on rhetoric, but woefully short on legal and factual support."

In a May 19 letter to attorneys for the Orioles, Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly wrote that by striking a deal with Major League Baseball, the club created a new "joint venture" in the form of MASN.

The letter called the Orioles' actions relating to the contract with Comcast SportsNet a "corporate shell game."

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