- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) has started an advertising campaign aimed at getting Comcast Corp. and other cable and satellite TV providers to carry the Washington Nationals games it produces.

The advertising effort, which began yesterday in local newspapers, urges Nationals fans to call Comcast Corp., Cox Cable, Echostar Communications Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp. to demand immediate distribution of MASN and the Nationals games. The four carriers have refused to carry MASN on their systems, with Comcast leading the charge against the network.

Comcast, embroiled in a bitter legal dispute against the Baltimore Orioles-controlled MASN, says the regional sports outlet is a direct outgrowth of a breach of contract levied by the Orioles against it. Comcast is by far the Washington area’s largest cable provider.

“This is just the beginning of a concerted campaign to make people aware the Nationals games are available but their cable companies are electing not to carry them and are robbing fans of the chance to see this first-place team,” said Vince Wladika, MASN spokesman.

MASN is currently limited to subscribers of DirecTV and RCN Cable. Nearly half of the Nationals’ schedule, however, is available over the air to television audiences on WDCA-TV (Channel 20), which is available on most local cable systems, including Comcast. But as the Nationals continue their surprising run atop the National League East, the lack of full distribution of Nationals games to most of the Washington area has proved a major frustration for many fans.

Adding to the confusion among the Nationals’ fan base is that the Comcast-MASN lawsuit stems from the Orioles’ plan to move their local pay TV games from Comcast SportsNet to MASN in 2007. The local TV rights of the Orioles and Nationals were linked together in March through an unprecedented agreement between Major League Baseball and the Orioles. Team owner Peter Angelos sought the linkage and the formalization of MASN as a means to protect his franchise financially from the arrival of the Nationals. But after providing the Nationals with a guaranteed $20million this season for the team’s TV rights, the Orioles and MASN are under growing financial pressure to recoup that fee through carriage deals and advertising revenue.

Projected costs for the MASN advertising campaign were not disclosed but are believed to extend well into six figures. The print ads soon will be joined by radio spots. No set timetable has been established but clearly will depend on the status of negotiations with the four carriers.

In recent weeks, Cox executives have cited excessive proposed fees from MASN as their reason not to carry the network, with MASN’s compensation demand believed to exceed $2 a subscriber. Such a rate would rank among the highest programming fees of any cable outlet. The Orioles, however, offered Comcast’s rate be set by an independent arbitrator. The proposal was made earlier this month in an Orioles petition to the Federal Communication Commission asking for a ruling to force Comcast to carry MASN.

The same offer for arbitration has not been extended to Cox, Adelphia and Echostar. MASN continues negotiations with those carriers on a less fractious level than with Comcast.

“MASN is the result of a illegal breach of our contract. If fans want to see the Nationals, they should be calling Peter Angelos,” said D’Arcy Rudnay, Comcast spokesman. “We are not carrying MASN, certainly not when they are in violation of our contractual rights.”

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