- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington area holds the clear support of most team owners in the Montreal Expos relocation derby, several club officials said yesterday. But as has been the case during much of the process, the primary concern is the potentially harmful economic impact on the Baltimore Orioles.

Asked if greater Washington held a clear advantage for the Expos absent the Orioles factor, San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan said, “Yes, I think that’s the general view [of the owners], that the area is the best [option]. But I’m still sympathetic to the concerns of doing something that would be a negative to another owner. It’s a conflict, doing what’s potentially the best for one franchise versus harming another.”

Magowan’s comments encapsulated baseball’s biggest problem as MLB owners wrapped up a two-day owners’ meeting yesterday. Bids from the District and Northern Virginia represent many more prospective fans, a higher per capita income and perhaps more political force than any other competing offer.

But on top of the strident objections of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, situated less than 40 miles away from the District and 60 miles from Northern Virginia’s preferred site in Loudoun County, none of the Expos bids have met with baseball’s approval. MLB president Bob DuPuy articulated that view Tuesday, and it was echoed yesterday by commissioner Bud Selig.

“There is still quite a lot of work to do in all of the [competing] markets, and that work is still ongoing,” Selig said.

Subcommittees of the relocation panel will meet within the next two weeks with officials of the District, Northern Virginia, Las Vegas and Norfolk. Considering that the two Washington area bids have begun advanced stadium lease negotiations with MLB executives, the other two meetings likely will be less extensive.

Selig, like DuPuy, refused to offer a new timetable for the much delayed relocation decision, saying only that the goal remains to move the Expos in time for next season. But the commissioner again reminded reporters of his 1970 move of the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, which occurred less than a week before the regular season began.

“I’m certainly not suggesting it will take that long, but people make adjustments,” Selig said.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a key figure on the relocation committee, also refused to get into the target date guessing game.

“What’s our target date? We passed it already,” Reinsdorf said. “You’ll never see me give a date anymore, because every date I’ve given has been wrong. But we have to get this done. It’s gone on way too long.”

What will satisfy Angelos with a move of the Expos to the Washington area is a mystery. The relocation committee has spent “thousands of hours,” on the Expos, Selig said. Angelos has said he has no interest in a much rumored cash payment. Closed-door talks over the state of the Orioles’ broadcast revenues have not produced any tangible results.

As for whether the District or Northern Virginia holds pole position in the Expos race, opinions among the ownership, as well as the relocation committee, remain divided. Advocates for the District cite 15 years of successful history behind the current generation of downtown ballparks, as well as the relative remoteness of Northern Virginia’s ballpark site near Dulles International Airport. But those particularly sympathetic to Angelos have lent their support more toward the commonwealth.

“The issue is very fluid,” DuPuy said.

In much less contentious baseball matters, Selig yesterday received his expected three-year contract extension, lengthening his term to December 2009. Selig, commissioner since 1992, presided over the start of interleague play, postseason wild cards, a crippling labor war in 1994 and a host of other events derided by fans. But baseball is now enjoying its greatest level of popularity since Selig took the helm, a factor that loomed large in the owners’ push to keep him from retiring.

“For a sport that has been reluctant to change, many times for the wrong reasons, we’ve come a long way. We were like a dinosaur, slow to change, slow to market,” said Selig, clearly not referring to the Expos situation. “We took so much for granted. But that’s changed now, and we now have tremendous [fan] support.”

MLB owners also approved a 10-year funding plan to start a still unnamed baseball television network. The 24-hour channel likely will make its debut in the summer or fall of next year. The effort follows similar channels created by the NFL and NBA and will feature some of the same video content seen on baseball’s highly successful Web site, mlb.com. Talks over potential distribution agreements have begun with cable and satellite carriers.

“This is no longer an idea. It is now a business,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president for business. “We believe there is a real niche out there for this effort.”

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