xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

MASN says commissoner-elect Manfred influenced TV rights case

The arbitration process that awarded tens of millions of dollars a year more to the Washington Nationals in television rights fees was not truly independent and was controlled largely by soon-to-be baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, attorneys for the Orioles television network argue in court documents.

Manfred, who is Major League Baseball's chief operating officer and will succeed Commissioner Bud Selig in January, maintains he only played a "support role" in the process.

Advertisement

The dispute over Manfred's role appears likely to delay any resolution of the case. Oral arguments in the case had been scheduled for Dec. 15, but it now appears that issues related to Manfred's role will push final arguments into next year.

In the case, pending before a New York judge, the Orioles-controlled Mid-Atlantic Sports Network alleges that a panel of three Major League owners applied the wrong standards in deciding in June that the Nationals should receive about $60 million in TV rights fees per year.

Advertisement

Since MASN now pays $40 million annually, the network would owe the Washington team about $20 million more for 2014 by the end of the year. In August, the judge blocked the panel's decision from taking effect while the court considers the matter.

MASN has questioned whether the owners of the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays were truly impartial. Its attorneys say the same outside counsel — New York-based Proskauer Rose — represented the Nationals, Major League Baseball and the three teams whose owners made up the arbitration panel.

In documents filed on Friday, MASN attorneys alleged Manfred and Major League Baseball exerted "dominance and control" over the panel, called the Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee, which baseball officials maintain was impartial.

In a motion filed Friday, MASN attorneys argued that Manfred and his staff functioned not only as the "exclusive gatekeeper" between the parties and the panel but as a fourth or even a "super" arbitrator by controlling communications, making procedural and substantive decisions for the panel, and actively participating in the arbitration hearing.

"But there is more," according to the MASN filing. "Mr. Manfred acknowledged that he instructed the Arbitrators with their mandate, and, remarkably, that he and his staff wrote the Award."

Manfred denied influencing the panel in an affirmation filed with the court last month.

"Neither I, nor the Commissioner, nor anyone else in the Commissioner's Office attempted to or did dictate the result of the RSDC Proceeding. The RSDC members exercised their own independent judgment," Manfred said in the document.

Asked for comment Monday night, a Major League Baseball spokesman said of MASN's arguments: "There are numerous allegations in the filing that are inaccurate."

Major League Baseball is opposing MASN's request that it release documents related to Manfred's "control" over the process. The matter threatens to delay any resolution of the case for months.

Procedures for determining TV rights fees were brokered by baseball when the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, moved to Washington in 2005.

A 2005 agreement was weighted toward the Orioles — giving the team a bigger ownership stake in MASN and a proportionately larger share of the profits — after the team argued that the Nationals' arrival into the region deprived Baltimore of a third of its market.

Advertisement

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement