- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Washington Nationals’ season-opening game is not certain to be televised in the Washington area, team President Tony Tavares and TV industry executives said yesterday.

“I haven’t ruled it out, but I haven’t ruled it in, either,” Mr. Tavares said of a broadcast of the Nationals’ game against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Monday.

The Nationals have been unable to proceed with plans for a telecast because of ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos over territorial rights for TV broadcasts.

MLB President Bob DuPuy said March 17 that the game “without question” would be televised in the Washington area.

However, several key steps needed to televise the opener have not been completed. The Nationals have yet to:

• Secure a channel on which to the show the game.

• Reserve a broadcast truck in which the telecast would be produced.

• Obtain satellite coordinates for the distribution of video and audio from the game.

• Hire on-air talent and technical personnel.

• Coordinate the battery of commercials and Nationals promotional spots to run between innings.

Such preparations normally are made weeks or months ahead of time.

“This is just astounding, unprecedented, really,” one longtime sports TV industry executive said on the condition of anonymity. “I’ve never seen a situation like this — not for something this important, the first game for Washington in all these years.”

Mr. Angelos and MLB have not been able to agree in more than six months of talks on who controls the mid-Atlantic TV marketplace. Mr. Angelos argues that he owns the TV territorial rights to the entire Baltimore-Washington area, and he wants Nationals games to air on a regional sports network that he operates.

MLB says the territorial rights are its property to be licensed to teams at the direction of its executive council.

MLB tried to end the stalemate by offering Mr. Angelos an unprecedented package of benefits, including guarantees of a certain level of local revenue and of the resale value of his franchise and a majority stake in a new regional sports network that would show both Orioles and Nationals games.

The sweetheart offer, however, has not produced an agreement. Some baseball sources speculate that Mr. Angelos is motivated, in part, by a desire to mute — via a late-arriving TV deal — the Nationals’ efforts to market their team.

Mr. Angelos was the only owner of a Major League Baseball team to vote against the relocation of the Montreal Expos to the District, a move he publicly opposed for years.

Mr. Angelos and Mr. DuPuy, in New York yesterday for more negotiations, were not available to comment yesterday. Mr. Tavares has no direct role in those negotiations.

Mr. DuPuy’s confidence that Monday’s game would be televised prompted sources to speculate that a contingency plan is ready should MLB fail to strike a deal with Mr. Angelos. However, no such plan has been disclosed.

Industry sources said Comcast SportsNet, an Orioles TV rights holder, still hopes to broadcast the Nationals opener. CSN also is considered a likely home for Nationals broadcasts.

CSN has experience producing games, particularly National Hockey League playoff contests, on short notice. Comcast’s corporate headquarters are in Philadelphia, increasing the resources and manpower that the network could send quickly to the Nationals-Phillies game.

But with no direct precedent for what the Nationals are facing, getting the game on TV will be anything but simple.

“It’s not impossible, but we’re all looking at a big, big challenge,” one local TV executive said.

The Nationals also have another solution available: The club could strike a deal that allows the simulcast of the Phillies’ broadcast on a Washington-area station.

However, executives for the Nationals; Comcast, the Phillies’ primary rights holder; and KYW-TV, the Philadelphia CBS affiliate that will show the opener, said there have been no discussions of such a plan.

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