- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Despite a swirl of hopeful rumors, Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles ended yet another negotiating session last night without an agreement to protect the club from the arrival of the Washington Nationals.

Several industry sources said yesterday an agreement was finally at hand to provide Orioles owner Peter Angelos an unprecedented package of benefits, including MLB-backed guarantees to the club’s annual revenues, future resale value and a dominant stake in a new regional sports network showing both the Orioles and Nationals.

“It’s very, very close to the finish line,” said one source familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But after meeting with Orioles attorney Alan Rifkin for the eighth time in nine days, MLB president Bob DuPuy declined to confirm those rumors or make any comment regarding the ongoing talks last night, citing a strict gag order from commissioner Bud Selig.

The ongoing dispute, more than six months in the making, has centered primarily on who controls the TV territorial rights for baseball in the Middle Atlantic region. Angelos believes he does, and he wants the Nationals to air on a regional sports network he controls. MLB, conversely, argues territorial rights remain the property of the league and are licensed out to team owners.

For months, the divide has handcuffed plans to sell the MLB-owned Nationals, get the new Washington club on local TV and boost its marketing presence, delays that have fueled a still-growing wrath of public anger toward both Angelos and MLB.

There was some increased hope yesterday of the Nationals’ season opener Monday being televised. Executives for National Mobile Television (NMTV), a California-based provider of production trucks used for live TV, said one of their trucks has been scheduled to be at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park for the season-opener between the Phillies and Nationals.

On Monday, Nationals president Tony Tavares, echoing several well-placed industry executives, said he couldn’t say whether the team’s season opener would be on TV and said he had no knowledge of a production truck being booked for the game.

“We have a hold on one of our trucks for that game,” said Jerry Gepner, president of NMTV’s New Jersey office, declining to say who placed the order. “We have made our resources available.”

While a truck is crucial for the live broadcast of any sports events, the Nationals are lacking other key elements for a TV production, including game announcers, producers and, perhaps most glaring, a station on which to show its games. Last-minute scrambling to arrange TV logistics is common for playoff games in several sports but a rarity for regular-season baseball.

One industry source said the Orioles have gone so far as to book production trucks for nearly the Nationals’ entire April schedule, a sign of confidence the club will win the fight to control the Washington team’s TV distribution.

But until formal word arrives on the state of negotiations between Angelos and MLB, the anxious anticipation continues, particularly as a deal has been said to be imminent several times since January.

“We want to know what’s going on, just like everybody else,” Gepner said.

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