The Orioles, who once seemed willing to fight to the death to preserve their stranglehold on a very large percentage of the revenue derived from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, have made a recent and unsuccessful attempt to settle the case.
The Nationals obviously want it to be over, too, though in their perfect world, the Orioles would forget they gave up a huge chunk of their regional revenue when they stopped resisting the addition of a second major league team within 40 miles of Camden Yards.
They want the O’s to dramatically raise the rights fee MASN is required to pay them under the original agreement or — some believe — allow them to opt out of the network entirely.
Manfred addressed the issue during his annual All-Star Game meeting with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday afternoon, but only to strongly counter the notion that he has sided with the Nationals.
He got some laughs when he said he is just “along for the ride on this unfortunate boat trip,” but there is nothing funny about the situation, the outcome of which has very large implications for both parties to the litigation.
The commissioner acknowledged the feeling in Baltimore that the Orioles’ stubborn stand in the long-running MASN case is the reason the team has been passed over repeatedly for a second All-Star Game at Oriole Park.
“We have treated Baltimore exactly the same as the other 29 clubs ever since this dispute began,’’ Manfred said. “And, as a matter of fact, we have actually probably treated them more fairly in a number of important respects … or more leniently rather than fairly, is really the word I mean.”
What that actually means is unclear, but it certainly sounded like Manfred was saying that he has options at his disposal that would force the Orioles to be more submissive to the authority of the commissioner’s office.
Theoretically, he does have the power to act in the “best interests of baseball,” but has not tried to force either side into a settlement. He repeated his frequent assertion that he prefers teams come to a compromise.
“I’m a big guy on agreements,’’ he said. “If you live up to your agreements, you go a long way in life.”
Of course, it’s got to be pretty obvious by now that there is no mutual agreement to be had. The New York court has sent the issue back to MLB’s Revenue Sharing Distribution Committee to take another crack at arbitrating the dispute.
The court questioned the objectivity of the first arbitration panel, which ruled that the Nationals should get a significantly higher rights fee than what MASN felt the original formula dictated. If a similar ruling comes down again, it’s hard to imagine the Orioles not going back to court.
Though turning the dispute over to a neutral arbitration panel would seem to make the most sense, Manfred said he believes that would not be practical.
“These television rights deals are difficult,’’ he said. “There’s a limited number of people in the world who have expertise in this area and most of whom, because they are involved in the industry in some way, would not be available to be the arbiter in this sort of dispute. I just think that good, bad or indifferent, the appropriate course is to try to enforce the agreement and get this dispute behind us.”
The All-Star Game, he said forcefully, is an entirely separate issue and placed the blame for the Orioles not having one on the team’s and the city’s supposed lack of interest in making an effort to host the event.
“Whether or not there is an All-Star Game in Baltimore depends on whether Baltimore gets organized and submits a bid that would be compelling for an All-Star Game, just like any other team,’’ Manfred said.
That might be true, but the commissioner is supposed to be a representative of the fans, so there’s a case to be made that his office should have pressed the Orioles to do so rather than giving the appearance of punishing them by upending a long tradition of alternating host cities by league and scheduling All-Star Games in four consecutive National League cities.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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