- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2017

A New York state appeals court ruled Thursday that an arbitration committee of Major League Baseball owners and executives can determine the amount of television right fees the Washington Nationals can earn from broadcasts, which was the agreed upon process when the Nationals came to the District.

The court ruled the Nationals and their broadcast partner, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, must abide by the arbitration process of the MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee, which is made up of three team owners and executives appointed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, if the two parties can’t agree on a resolution beforehand.

The appeals court overturned a November 2015 decision which favored the Baltimore Orioles-owned MASN, who were arguing the committee was impartial and wanted outside arbitration.

The Orioles previously refused to pay a ruling from the RSDC that entitled the Nationals to about $298 million in right fees for the years 2012-2016, so the parties went to court in 2014.

The court’s decision does not entitle the Nationals to that money, only ruling the RSDC has a right to decide the amount of right fees for the Nationals for money for the previous five years and the next five.

When the Nationals moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005, the Nationals and Orioles agreed to negotiate television rights every five years. If the parties couldn’t come to an agreement, they would go to an MLB arbitration process to decide how much the Nationals should receive in television rights fees annually.

The Orioles opposed the move because they argued the Nationals would infringe on their markets. MLB, so the Nationals and the Orioles agreed on a solution that gave the Orioles the majority control of MASN.

The two parties, however, could not agree to television right fees for the years 2012-2016, so they went to the RSDC. The Orioles then opposed the usage of the RSDC to determine the financial distribution. A judge agreed, sending the case into years of arbitration arguments.

The New York state appeals court ruled the committee has the legal right to decide, based on the earlier contract the Nationals, MASN and MLB agreed upon. A prime reason this appeals court decided the case can go back to the RSDC is that the group of executives will be different than the first time.

The Nationals are gratified that the appeals court recognized the importance of enforcing contractual arbitration agreements,” said Stephen Neuwirth of Quinn Emanuel, who argued the appeal for the Nationals, in a statement. “We look forward to finally having the rights fees determined in the forum the parties chose.”

The legal fight, though, is far from over. The Orioles can appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.

“To my knowledge, for the first time in history, an internal MLB arbitration was vacated by the court and was done so unanimously,” Orioles attorney Arnold Weiner said in statement. “It’s one thing to declare victory, as the Nationals do, and it’s another thing to have actually won, which they didn’t.”

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