- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network has submitted a new request to Comcast to carry the fledgling network on its cable service in the hopes that more fans can catch the Washington Nationals on television next season.

Meanwhile, MASN said it will re-start negotiations with several other distributors from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, as part of an effort to eventually create a sports network available to as many as 6.6 million people. It would be the primary television home for Nationals and Baltimore Orioles games.

MASN’s latest distribution efforts come after a Montgomery County judge last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by Philadelphia-based Comcast, which is under contract to cover Orioles games through the 2006 season on Comcast SportsNet. The Orioles own the majority of the new network, which was formed to compensate Orioles owner Peter Angelos for the Nationals’ move into the Orioles’ television territory. Comcast argued that the Orioles violated its contract by agreeing to be broadcast on MASN after 2006, and has refused to carry the network.

Comcast said it will appeal the judge’s decision, but declined to comment on MASN’s latest request.

Talks between MASN and other potential carriers started last March, but many companies declined to sign on because their programming budget was set for the year.

“The mandate has been to get distribution as fast as you can,” MASN general manager Bob Whitelaw said. “Because of the Comcast litigation and where we were in terms of budget season, people were reluctant to commit to us. There has now been more respect to what we are talking about and more willingness to discuss with us what can happen in 2006.”

Only satellite provider DirecTV and cable company RCN in the District carried MASN this past season. Nationals games were also available on WDCA Channel 20, with some games broadcast on ESPN and Fox. Comcast is the region’s largest cable provider, with about 1.7 million subscribers.

Cox Communications, which has 260,000 subscribers in Fairfax County and Fredericksburg, said it has not yet found a way to carry the network without passing the high costs to subscribers.

“Now that the season is over, we’ll consider the best way to carry the Nats for our customers,” Cox spokesman Alex Horwitz said. “We have to offer [MASN] in terms that are in their best interest.”

Whitelaw said MASN’s proposed terms are comparable to other regional sports networks.

So far, MASN has had no programming other than Nationals games, but Whitelaw said it will offer round-the-clock programming by March of 2007. It could come sooner if cable and satellite providers request it.

Additionally, he said the new Nationals owners will get their say. MASN’s current on-air talent operated on one-year contracts this season and it is unclear whether they will return.

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