MASN files formal opposition to second MLB ruling favoring Nationals

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, majority-owned by the Baltimore Orioles, has filed with the New York Supreme Court its formal opposition to a Major League Baseball arbitration ruling against the regional sports network.

MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee, which helps set local media rights for clubs with equity interests in their own regional sports networks, earlier this year ruled the Orioles as the dominant shareholder in MASN owe nearly $100 million to the Washington Nationals, the junior partner in the RSN, in additional fees for its 2012-2016 local media rights. 

The Orioles and Nationals for most of the past decade have been engaged in a lengthy court battle regarding their local media rights, stemming from the Montreal Expos’ 2005 relocation to the US capital city to become the Nationals, and the subsequent creation of MASN as a means to provide compensation to the Orioles. A prior RSDC award also in favor of the Nationals, prescribing a similar amount of additional rights fees, was thrown out by a state appeals court due to what it found as “evident partiality.” 

MASN’s latest 38-page court filing alleges MLB’s arbitration panel continues the same improper bias toward the Nationals, highlighted in part by several prior public comments by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred predicting that the RSN would ultimately be required to pay the Nationals more in rights fees.

“The commissioner’s public comments – including that ‘sooner or later’ MASN would have to abide by the terms of the vacated First Award – are not the words of a neutral official presiding over an arbitral forum,” MASN’s filing reads in part. “They are the words of a litigant who is staking out a particular position on the facts and the law, and is hoping to convince the public, and the other MLB owners, of the correctness of that view.”

MASN’s filing lays out five different arguments against confirming the RSDC decision for the Nationals, some of which follow along procedural grounds. Among those arguments is MASN’s allegation that the RSDC refused to show most of its other media rights evaluations from related-party telecast agreements that were used to inform the latest decision in favor of the Nationals. 

“The RSDC’s conduct effectively misled MASN as to the relevance of that evidence by professing its utter irrelevance only to rely almost exclusively on that very same evidence in crafting an award against MASN,” the filing reads.

As it has for several years, MASN is again pushing to have the matter sent to an independent arbitral forum to be reheard. The New York Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case July 12. 

Should the Nationals ultimately prevail and have the RSDC award confirmed, the $100 million will be lessened by restated MASN profit distributions that both clubs participated in over the years.