- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos are on the verge of an agreement that will allow Washington Nationals games to be broadcast on television and jump-start stalled efforts to sell the Nationals.

Angelos met for several hours Wednesday with MLB president Bob DuPuy in New York to resume talks on measures to protect the Orioles financially from the arrival of the Nationals. The negotiations have dragged on for more than five months, but with Opening Day rapidly approaching, a deal finally appears within sight.

“I believe we are down to a couple of issues,” DuPuy said. “I hope to come to closure within a few days.”

MLB has constructed a benefits package for Angelos believed to include guarantees to the Orioles’ annual local revenues and future resale value and a dominant equity stake in a new regional sports TV network airing both the Orioles and Nationals. If the Orioles’ annual local revenues fall below $130 million a year or if Angelos decided to sell the team and failed to get at least $360 million, MLB would make up the difference.

The hefty offering is unprecedented for the sport and already has come under criticism by many sports industry executives and fans. But MLB officials are seeking to avoid a legal standoff with Angelos, who is, of course, a successful attorney by profession.

Plenty of pressing questions, however, stand unresolved for the planned TV venture, most notably when it would start, which cable and satellite operators would carry it and what role Comcast would play. Comcast is easily the region’s largest cable operator, and its Comcast SportsNet (CSN) holds a contract with the Orioles to carry the team on its channel through the 2006 season.

Comcast repeatedly has resisted making any substantive public comments on the issue. But an Orioles TV schedule is in development to include 87 regular-season games and a handful of spring-training contests on CSN, essentially matching the network’s Orioles slates of recent years.

Market areas also have been part of the TV talks between DuPuy and Angelos. While the Orioles’ market territory is technically defined by MLB as the city of Baltimore and five surrounding counties, its actual TV distribution heretofore has extended from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. After extensive discussions, it is likely the two clubs will both be available on TV through much of the region.

As the Orioles talks have limped along for one agonizing month after another, the inability to reach a deal has frustrated many MLB executives and prompted commissioner Bud Selig earlier this year to get more involved.

Angelos, who has long argued a Washington club would cripple the Orioles’ revenues, declined to comment yesterday. But industry sources familiar with the situation said the club shares DuPuy’s hope of a successful resolution to the talks arriving soon.

“It’s not there yet, but progress definitely is being made,” one source said.

The Nationals, owned by MLB, are prohibited from striking any local TV deals until the Angelos situation is settled.

“I’ve been hearing a few days for a few months now. I hope this time it’s true,” Nationals president Tony Tavares said.

MLB has been unable to proceed far on efforts to sell the Nationals without a deal with Angelos because a precise read on the team’s local TV revenues is crucial to placing a value on the franchise. More than a half-dozen bidding groups, including several from the local area, are seeking to buy the club.

In other Nationals developments, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams said on WTOP Radio he has talked with Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin about possibly assisting in the city’s construction of a new ballpark in Southeast for the Nationals. Pollin’s professional background is in large-scale construction, and he personally led the building of Capital Centre in Landover and MCI Center in Northwest.

“It’s folks like Abe Pollin we should be looking toward to build this [stadium],” Williams said.

Pollin was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment, but officials for his Washington Sports & Entertainment confirmed his willingness to get involved in the project, if needed.

“[Pollin] and the mayor are friends, and obviously the city is extremely important to Mr. Pollin, so if the mayor asked for his assistance, Mr. Pollin would do anything he can to help,” WSE senior vice president Matt Williams said.

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