- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Major League Baseball is considering retaining its minority stake in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) if prospective owners of the Washington Nationals do not place a sufficient value on the asset.

MLB, which owns the Nationals, earlier this week asked for two separate bids by the end of the month: one for just the team and another for the club plus the equity stake in MASN, which currently sits at 10 percent and rises to 33 percent over the next three decades. The Baltimore Orioles are the majority owner of MASN, which ultimately aims to show games of both clubs.

‘We could end up keeping the stake. We’ll need to see what happens,’ said MLB President Bob DuPuy. ‘The real idea is to get the clearest possible idea of how this is being perceived [by potential buyers] and then go from there.’

Earlier this year, MLB paid $75million to the Orioles for the equity stake in MASN. MLB executives have said the joint TV venture with the Orioles — in which the Nationals would receive a market-rate local TV rights fee starting at $20million this season — would be significantly accretive to the value of the Nationals. Several bidders for the club privately have disagreed with that assessment, making the two-bid request a key litmus test on what MASN is worth.

Asking for initial bids on the Nationals and MASN within two weeks also slightly alters the sales process previously under development. MLB had intended to first interview each of nine prospective ownership groups, with a goal of learning the operational plans and background of each before moving forward. But by bringing money into the equation sooner, MLB executives aim to weed out less serious bidders for the club.

The Nationals are expected to sell for at least $300million. DuPuy declined to specify the intended sale price for the MASN stake, but given baseball’s desire to earn maximum profits on its four-season ownership of the Montreal Expos-turned-Nationals, the $75million it just paid is a likely starting point.

Last week, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he intended to select a new owner for the Nationals by midsummer, despite an ongoing lawsuit from Comcast SportsNet (CSN) that threatens the viability of MASN. Other industry executives, including Nationals president Tony Tavares, are less optimistic. But District officials, local fans, and Nationals players are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of new owners to bulk up investment in the club.

The CSN lawsuit, levied against MASN, the Orioles and MLB, claims the Orioles’ plans to move their local pay TV games to MASN no later than 2007 violates terms of its carriage agreement with the club.

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