Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sue you? I'll sue everybody

I haven't commented on this yet, so I'll do so . . . now

Comcast SportsNet sued the Baltimore Orioles and the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on Thursday over television rights to Orioles games. In a suit filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville, Comcast asks that the Orioles, MASN and Major League Baseball be prevented from negotiating or licensing local pay TV rights to Orioles games because Comcast holds such rights through the 2006 season. [ . . . ] The suit says the Orioles have breached their contract with Comcast. It also seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

Eric Fisher of the WaTimes cuts to the chase:

The lawsuit itself stems primarily from terms of the Orioles' distribution agreement with CSN, as the network contends the Orioles' announced plans to move its local pay TV games from CSN to MASN in 2007 violates CSN's legal right to match contract terms, as well as an exclusive negotiating window not expiring until November.

I did a quick and free search for Comcast's complaint, but, not surprisingly, you're not going to find it at the website for the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, and I didn't find it anywhere else on the 'net yet.

As Fisher points out, this is a grudge-match between entities that traditionally do not inspire much empathy or sympathy from Nats fans or admirers of Truth, Justice & the American Way: Comcast, Peter Angelos, and Major League Baseball.

Nevertheless, Fisher also states that Nats fans should be allied with the Orioles on this---

But Thursday's lawsuit from Comcast SportsNet (CSN) against MLB and the Baltimore Orioles now creates arguably the ultimate baseball twilight zone moment: a fight in which Washingtonians are rooting for Orioles owner Peter Angelos to win.

---an assessment that, at the very least, baffles the posters over at the Ballpark Guys forum (and you don't get any more Nats-fans-intensive than those guys!).

The internet is the domain for attorneys to parcel out opinions based on about thirty-five seconds of analysis---and little-to-no background in the specific area of law at issue---and rely upon "Oh yeah, I'm a lawyer" to carry Credibility's water. But I'm not going to do that here---at least not yet.

As for the side on which Nats fans should throw their support, I'm not entirely sure I know, either. Several Ballpark Guys are rooting for Comcast to go in with guns ablazing and hope MASN will end up like Jack Palance's compound at the end of Tango & Cash. (In other words, MASN blows up, MLB and Angelos renegotiate, and the resulting deal is much more favorable to the Nats---if not relieved of Angelos's heria---"hands"; in this case, grubby ones---altogether.)

That's fine, except:

1) it doesn't in any way, shape, or form help fans of the Nationals right now;
2) how do you know MLB will negotiate a better deal the second time around? and,
3) even before we get to that stage, how do we know Angelos did not plan for this contingency?

I think Jack Evans (as quoted in Fisher's article) has the right perspective:

"If this is just about Comcast putting the screws to the Nationals and Orioles, then a pox on their house. But if Comcast can get a better deal for the Nationals than what they're getting now from Baltimore, then I'm all for it. I'm watching this closely, but I don't know really know where this is going."

This will be closely watched, of course---which is, lamentably, more than we can say about Nationals' games.

---In the Bizarro World Post of the Day, we have this quote---from the spokesman of a wannabe-monopolist network of a team in a monopolist league:

"This is about a monopolist in Comcast fighting to keep its monopoly," said Vince Wladika, MASN spokesman. "It's apparently OK for them to be the second, third or fourth RSN player coming into a market, but they don't like it when someone comes in to give them competition."

---The WaTimes editorial page---in its own inimitable way---is on the case again.

It's even added an extra modifier to its description of Angelos since February:

---> Then: . . . the irascible malcontent who owns the Baltimore Orioles.
---> Now: Angelos -- an irascible, vengeance-seeking malcontent . . .

The substance of today's editorial is an impressive, thorough review of how MLB negotiated the Nats into a terrible deal regarding TV rights.

As for the recommended cure, it's the oft-repeated panacea "Let's go after MLB's antitrust exemption." As usual, the call for such action is vague and conclusory.

---"Washington as a baseball town" update:

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch's editorial page:

For many years DeeCee boosters have described the area as desperate for the return of Major League baseball. The District and its environs have embraced the Nationals -- née the Montreal Expos -- but attendance, while robust, has been less than spectacular. Fans are not filling the stadium to the rafters. The venue represents a handicap. No one would dub RFK the "friendly confines." A projected new ballpark will draw more fans -- at least during its novelty years. Yet although the Nats probably will prosper, Washington's past performance and its current record suggest DeeCee's nickname is not "Baseball Town." That honor is shared by St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati -- as well as other cities whose loyalists will be enraged they did not make the list.

Aside from the use of annoying, contrived abbreviations ("DeeCee," anyone?), is it realistic that a city which has not seen Major League Baseball in over three decades will suddenly become "Baseball Town" now that it has a team? Of course not. Is it an insult? Not really.

Is it a stupid editorial blurb? Yes.

Is it representative of the surface-level analysis and reasoning that both righties and lefties regard as the hallmark of the Times-Dispatch's editorial page? You betcha.

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