- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the new television entity for the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, is on the verge of a multiyear distribution deal with DirecTV, marking the first such agreement putting MASN on cable or satellite TV.

A deal, set to be announced today, was to be completed yesterday, and DirecTV subscribers found a listing for last night’s Nationals-Florida Marlins game on channel 626. But lawyers continued to comb over the fine points of the agreement last night, putting off distribution of Nationals games for another day. The placeholder on channel 626 showed a DirecTV logo and a steady stream of classic rock.

?This placeholder on DirecTV was obviously done in anticipation of the deal being done, but we’re not quite there yet,? said MASN spokesman Vince Wladika.

Once done, the deal calls for 72 Nationals games to be shown on MASN, supplementing the 71 contests scheduled for the rest of this season on WDCA-TV (Channel 20).

MASN, created less than a month ago as a result of intense negotiations between the Orioles and Major League Baseball, is primarily owned by the Orioles, and the impending deal with DirecTV marks one of the quickest acquisitions of a carriage deal by any regional sports TV network. The agreement is believed to be for at least six years.

With distribution with DirecTV in hand, MASN executives intend to heighten carriage negotiations with the area’s leading cable providers, most notably industry power Comcast. Talks with Comcast, however, are expected to be quite complex, and perhaps hostile, as Comcast operates a rival regional sports network, Comcast SportsNet. And in 2007, the Orioles will shift their games not scheduled for over-the-air broadcast from CSN to MASN.

The MASN deal, once complete, will undoubtedly mollify District officials, notably Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, who two weeks ago angrily complained to Major League Baseball about the lack of widespread TV coverage for the Nationals. MLB President Bob DuPuy responded by saying distribution deals were forthcoming.

The DirecTV pact also will serve as a boon for Nationals fans in Anne Arundel and Howard counties who were unable to receive WDCA’s signal either through their cable provider or over the air. To that end, DirecTV plans an extensive advertising campaign to trumpet its deal with MASN, and will encourage Comcast subscribers to drop their cable service and switch to DirecTV.

Such a dynamic between the bitter TV industry rivals has played out in many markets, most notably New York. DirecTV began carrying the New York Yankees’ regional sports network, YES, well in advance of Cablevision, and used that deal to steal thousands of cable subscribers.

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