- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Situated in one of the world’s wealthiest markets, the Washington Nationals have a seemingly unlimited potential for long-term success. But baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is threatening to pull the financial rug out from under the franchise before it plays its first spring-training game.

Since at least September, when the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington became imminent, Selig has been engaged in intense financial negotiations with Peter Angelos, the irascible malcontent who owns the Baltimore Orioles. Angelos is demanding that Major League Baseball provide unprecedented guarantees governing the market value and annual revenues of his franchise, which he purchased for $173 million in 1993.

Selig and the MLB have reportedly guaranteed that Angelos would receive at least $360 million for the sale of the Orioles, representing a nearly $200 million profit. The MLB has also reportedly guaranteed Angelos that his team’s annual revenue would not fall below $130 million.

There are serious questions about whether Angelos is due any consideration. “I don’t think they have to pay him any money,” Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s a silly precedent,” said Zimbalist, who has written several books about the finances of baseball. “I’m puzzled that they are even negotiating with him because they have no legal need to.”

Nevertheless, if Selig wants to take up a collection among his fellow conspirators to compensate Angelos in order to preserve comity within the cartel, that’s baseball’s business. But what right do Selig and MLB have to transfer the lion’s share of the Washington franchise’s biggest asset — its television rights — to Angelos? Yet, that appears to be precisely what he intends to do.

There has been much talk about a “regional network” that would televise both Orioles and Nationals games. Despite the fact that the Baltimore market is much smaller than Washington’s and far less wealthy, Angelos is reportedly being offered 60 percent of the network’s revenues and a 60 percent ownership stake.

With Washington’s income of $214 billion nearly two-and-a-half times Baltimore’s, on what basis does Angelos deserve a share of the television proceeds that is 50 percent larger than Washington’s share? If Selig and Angelos get their way, they could effectively cripple the Washington franchise before it reaches first base.

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