- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2012

Despite winning records this year that have delighted their long-suffering fans, it seems the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles still can’t get much respect — including from the federal government.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month upheld an order from the Federal Communications Commission allowing Time Warner Cable Inc. to leave the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its sister station, MASN2, off its basic cable package in North Carolina.

And the FCC didn’t pull any punches in defending its reasoning to the court, justifying its order in part by noting that the two teams have been so bad so often recently that it was “not surprising” baseball fans in North Carolina would prefer to watch another club’s games.

The region, whose fans identify more with Atlanta than the District or Baltimore, is nevertheless considered by baseball officials to fall within the Washington/Baltimore market, so the Time Warner decision not to carry the stations prompted complaints of discrimination from MASN.

The ruling follows a lengthy legal battle and means that, because of Major League Baseball’s blackout restrictions that give priority to local broadcasters over national ones, most Nats and O’s fans in much of the Tar Heel State cannot watch their “home” teams live.

“Stephen Strasburg comes up [in the rotation], and it’s blacked out in a local area. There’s not much I can do,” said Dave Cameron of Winston-Salem, N.C., the managing editor of Fangraphs, a baseball stats site, who has written for the Wall Street Journal and ESPN. “Literally, the only way to watch these events is to find an illegal stream.”

He said MLBtv, an online-streaming package available for purchase from Major League Baseball, doesn’t work either because baseball does not provide the Web feed in local markets expecting that fans will be able to tune into the television broadcast.

“No matter what package you buy, they will black it out,” he said.

Mr. Cameron said that with the surprising success of the Orioles thus far this year, the situation has “absolutely” made his job more difficult.

“The Orioles are obviously one of the better stories for the season thus far, and Major League Baseball is making it exceedingly difficult for me to watch them,” he said. “If I want to write about an Orioles game, I have to do it a day or two later than everyone else.”

Battle in the courts

MASN is owned by both the Orioles and Nationals.

In 2005, it started televising Nationals game. In 2007, it added the Orioles to its schedule and unsuccessfully prodded Time Warner to carry the station on the analog tier of its cable package in North Carolina.

In 2008, an FCC arbitrator and the commission’s media bureau both ruled in favor of the network, but Time Warner appealed.

In 2010, the FCC reversed the two decisions, saying Time Warner provided “legitimate and nondiscriminatory” reasons for not carrying the stations on its analog tier in the state.

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