Saturday, April 2, 2005

More than six months after the Montreal Expos’ move to the District was announced, the Washington Nationals yesterday finally received a local TV schedule for a 76-game slate on WDCA-TV (Channel 20).

The block of games, one of several results from the lengthy TV negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Orioles, will air on the UPN affiliate mostly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. However, Monday’s season opener at Philadelphia will be the first game to air on WDCA.

Most of the remaining games on the Nationals’ schedule are slated to run on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the newly created regional sports network that primarily will be controlled by the Orioles. MASN does not yet have agreements to be carried anywhere.

The Nationals’ schedule with WDCA represents what is believed to be the largest collection of over-the-air broadcasts of any team in Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile, industry sources said former Orioles and Washington Bullets announcer Mel Proctor is on the verge of being signed as one of the Nationals’ TV play-by-play announcers. Proctor is the radio play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Others being considered for TV roles with the Nationals include Rob Dibble, a former Cincinnati Reds reliever who used to work at ESPN, and Kenny Albert, a broadcaster for Fox Sports and the NFL Network. At least part of the team’s announcing crew will be named this weekend, with the Orioles leading the hiring process with input from the Nationals.

“I’m truly happy to get this deal done and finally be on the air,” said Nationals president Tony Tavares, who did not have a role in the WDCA pact. “My only regret is that we weren’t able to do this in time for spring training so we had some more opportunities for Washington to get to know this team.”

While MASN is being designed to serve the entire Baltimore-Washington area and co-owned by the two clubs, the multiyear WDCA deal creates an element of division between the two teams. The station is not available in most Baltimore-area homes, and the Nationals do not have a deal with any Baltimore radio or TV broadcaster.

Conversely, the Orioles have no over-the-air TV contract with any Washington station.

No Nationals over-the-air games will be on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) unless they are part of Fox’s national broadcast package.

“Our agreement with WDCA is a perfect complement to Nationals games that will appear on MASN,” said Bob Whitelaw, MASN executive. Whitelaw, the former New England Sports Network president and most recently director of operations for the Orioles Television Network, will be a key figure in the MASN startup.

Despite the arrival of part of the Nationals’ TV schedule, many fans yesterday were still chafing about the MASN terms that appear to favor Orioles owner Peter Angelos. According to industry sources, Angelos will control as much as 90 percent of MASN equity at the outset, though the Nationals’ percentage will increase to up to 33 percent over a 20-year period.

“I’m not happy about this at all, and I think the only one who is happy is the guy up in Baltimore,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Tavares, however, was more upbeat about the agreement. The Nationals will receive a guaranteed annual rights fee, believed to be between $25million and $30million, with the sum reset every five years to market rates. Even if MASN struggles in efforts to be carried by cable and satellite providers or fails to post profits, the Nationals still will receive their obligated money.

“I now have a dollar amount for the TV rights fee that I didn’t know before,” Tavares said. “That number is adequate and in line with our budgeting.”

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