O's get court to delay video board purchase

December 09, 2006|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles delayed the Maryland Stadium Authority's attempts yesterday to buy a new video board for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, contending that the purchase would have shortchanged the team and its fans.

After a hearing, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge granted the Orioles' request for a temporary restraining order barring the authority from ordering a $1.5 million video board from Mitsubishi. The authority said the purchase needed to be made by midday yesterday to have the new display ready for Opening Day in April.

The dispute will now move to binding arbitration.

Judge Wanda K. Heard's temporary restraining order provides for a 10-day period with a five-day extension available so the sides can make arrangements for that arbitration. Heard based her decision on language in the lease agreement between the team and the stadium authority that requires certain disputes to be resolved through binding arbitration.

The stadium authority wanted to buy a new DiamondVision screen to replace the current 14-year-old JumboTron, which Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Forrence said is failing and for which replacement parts are becoming scarce. She said the authority could be held responsible by, say, sponsors, should the JumboTron not work next season.

While the baseball team wants a new video and audio system for Oriole Park, it contends that the upgrade - replacing just the video screen portion of the scoreboard - is less than what is called for in the lease agreement. Team attorney Alan M. Rifkin compared the change to "replacing an eight-track system with a new cassette system when what you need to do is take the time to create a DVD system."

Robert McKinney, chairman of the authority, declined to speculate on how the dispute might be resolved but defended the ballpark's place among major league stadiums.

"Camden Yards is a showplace," he said, "and the Maryland Stadium Authority has been diligent in making sure it remains at the top of the list in that regard."

The stadium authority said that the new DiamondVision screen would be state-of-the-art but that the Orioles seek more sweeping improvements, including - but not limited to - a larger screen. In addition, Orioles representatives had participated in assessing vendors for the new video screen, the authority said, and had voted in favor of awarding the contract to Mitsubishi.

The Orioles had maintained that the lease agreement requires the team's written approval for changes, such as to the park's video and audio information system, and that it also provides for arbitration to resolve various disputes.

Mark Foster, general manager of Mitsubishi's DiamondVision Systems, said yesterday that any further delay beyond a few days would mean that a new video screen could not be ready for Opening Day. Foster said that an installation could take several weeks and that a timetable would be subject to variables, such as how much work was being done and whether it was being performed over longer workdays.

"It depends on their appetite for those costs," Foster said.

Rifkin suggested that the work could be done in phases during the season.

The Orioles lawyer argued that Baltimore's baseball team faces stiff competition from the Washington Nationals, who eventually will be playing in a new $611 million stadium.

A new video-audio system is needed at Camden Yards, he said, to attract fans and sponsors and help put the team in a better economic position to field the best possible team.

"Our goal is not to stop it," Rifkin said of a new scoreboard experience for Orioles fans, "but to get it right for the benefit of everyone."

Among the unresolved issues is building a new control room for a new video display, a project estimated to cost an additional $2 million, and how any expansion of a new video-audio system will be paid for.

The Orioles want the stadium authority to pay for it while the authority wants to use money that the team insists is supposed to be used for other types of stadium improvements.

Among the concerns expressed by Heard, the judge who granted the temporary restraining order, was potential "injury to the public as a whole." She questioned whether public money would be jeopardized if the authority were allowed to immediately go ahead with the video screen purchase and later suffered an adverse arbitration ruling on the matter.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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