O's second-class treatment of WBAL, Comcast makes no business sense

Maese Space

April 14, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Let's start today with a couple of quotes. This is from a March 17 Sun story:

"I'd like to see how the [Orioles and MASN] function together, particularly in the generation of revenue, which will enable us to put on, as I said, an even more competitive team than we did this year and the following year," [owner Peter] Angelos said. "That's the goal."

If it's accomplished and the franchise breaks out of its club record losing streak, which is at nine seasons, Angelos said, the peripheral negativity will fade.

"I really want to take away all that criticism you guys are able to lob," Angelos said with a smile. "It's my way of getting even."

There was a time when we all wondered what exactly the addition of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network would mean to Orioles baseball. Most focused on the payroll and the team's ability to add zeros to contracts. While payroll is, indeed, up this year, and they've put a pretty intriguing product on the field these first couple of weeks, MASN's immediate impact cannot be found on the diamond.

In a very interesting business move, the Orioles have decided to use MASN as muscle to bully other outlets and control what gets said about their baseball team and who says it. Some attention this week has shined on WNST, a station whose owner was not granted a credential and whose morning-show host must request access on a game-by-game basis. But the story you didn't hear much about this week revolves around Comcast SportsNet and WBAL-AM, who are being treated like jilted lovers in the Orioles' first week of home games.

At Monday's opener, it was clear how far Comcast SportsNet had fallen in the pecking order. Brent Harris, who has done many favorable pieces on the Orioles over the years, was stuck in a folding chair in the corner of the press box with nowhere to put his laptop. Harris still hasn't been granted a season credential. That might not seem like a big deal (Harris has a pass that expires after this homestand), but how ridiculous is it that someone who has covered the team fairly for years has no guarantees beyond this weekend?

WBAL-AM also has a nice history with the Orioles, and it has also received shoddy treatment from the team this week. There have been problems with credentials and parking, not to mention the inexact and fluid rules about what it is allowed to broadcast from the park.

For reporters from both outlets, their ability to do their jobs improved throughout the week. But the mere fact that reporting on the team has become an obstacle course for some is very telling. The Orioles will tell you they want to give exclusive access to their flagship stations. Which is fine. It becomes ridiculous, though, when you start infringing on other media outlets' ability to cover the team. And it makes terrible business sense.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how the Orioles' myopic approach backfires. A couple of weeks ago, I was in-studio on Sportsline with Steve Davis. Davis had hoped to interview Jim Duquette and Kevin Millar. The Orioles weren't having that. So instead of interviewing a couple of popular Orioles figures and promoting the team for an hour, Davis opened up the phone lines. You can guess the result - caller after caller wanted to vent his or her frustrations about the team.

No one likes to listen to media members gripe about their jobs, but this one isn't really about the media. It's about the Orioles and their short-sighted understanding of how to sell their product. They should be reaching toward their audience, not pushing it away.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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