A New York judge has declined to order the Orioles-controlled television network to pay an additional $23 million into an escrow account while the network’s decadelong broadcast rights fees dispute with the Washington Nationals continues.
The Nationals, in court papers, had requested that the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network add the money into an account already containing more than $105 million deposited by the network in 2019 pending its appeal of a decision in the case.
The additional $23 million amounted to interest fees that have accumulated on the total, which is being held for the Nationals should they win the appeal. The money is for additional broadcast fees the court said the Nationals were owed for 2012 through 2016.
Interest is accumulating at a rate of $25,896 per day, according to documents filed with the New York Supreme Court.
As the interest mounts, Nationals’ attorneys argued that the new payment was necessary to make sure that MASN — which is majority-owned by the Orioles and broadcasts both teams’ games — could immediately fulfill its obligations if the network loses in court.
Thomas H. Sosnowski, an attorney for MASN and the Orioles, said in an interview Wednesday that the additional payment was unneeded.
“All we’re trying to do is prudently manage the network,” Sosnowski said. “What we believe they’re doing is trying to tie up MASN’s cash reserves to try to put pressure on the network before the Court of Appeals can decide the case.”
Sosnowski and other MASN and Orioles lawyers had argued in a January court document that paying the interest into escrow “would impose additional financial burdens on MASN without making one extra dollar available to the Nationals now.”
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New York Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen denied the Nationals’ request in a ruling from the bench and subsequent one-page order on Tuesday.
Nationals’ attorney Stephen Neuwirth did not return messages seeking comment.
The Orioles have a 77% stake in MASN, and the Nationals hold 23%. The imbalance was designed to ensure the Baltimore club’s long-term viability after the Nationals — the former Montreal Expos — arrived in 2005 into what was once exclusively Orioles’ territory.
Under a 2005 agreement, the Nationals’ stake in MASN — and the team’s share in its profits — started at 10% and increases by 1 percentage point a year, topping out at 33% in 2032.
The dispute dates to 2012, when the Orioles and Nationals could not agree on TV rights fees, which MASN pays equally to both clubs. The Nationals said they were not receiving fair market value from MASN for the rights to broadcast games.
The dispute is unusual because team-versus-team issues are normally handled within Major League Baseball — not in the courts.
At issue in the current appeal is the fairness of an MLB arbitration panel’s decision in 2019 that sided with the Nationals. MASN also says the league was not impartial and should not have been arbitrating the case.