- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

In his testimony today before the House Committee on Government Reform, we look forward to watching Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig being questioned about his role in organizing and enforcing baseball’s conspiracy of silence throughout its burgeoning steroids scandal, which has afflicted the erstwhile national pastime since the 1990s. Before he hands over the lion’s share of the lucrative television rights of the Washington Nationals to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Selig needs to have a conversation with House and Senate Judiciary Committee members about the long overdue revocation of the franchise-relocation provision of baseball’s antitrust exemption.

During baseball’s extensive negotiations with Angelos in what experts consider to be a legally unnecessary effort to compensate him for the Nationals’ arrival in Washington, it is difficult to understand which negotiating partner has been displaying more chutzpah. Is it Angelos, who asserted in a full-page ad in the Sunday sports section of The Washington Post that MLB effectively granted him in perpetuity “the exclusive rights to a geographically defined television territory that stretches from Pennsylvania through all of Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Delaware, portions of West Virginia and as far south as Charlotte, North Carolina”? Or is it Selig, who has audaciously considered striking a deal with Angelos that would severely reduce the value of one of the Nationals’ largest assets — i.e., the right to televise its games throughout the team’s local market, whose wealth guarantees an inestimable revenue stream for decades?

MLB has already reportedly guaranteed Angelos that he would receive at least $365 million if he sold the Orioles. That is more than twice the $173 million he paid for the O’s in 1993. But this overly generous, unprecedented offer has had virtually no effect upon Angelos’ apparently insatiable demand for the television revenues generated within the Washington metropolitan area — TV rights that should belong to the Nationals. Indeed, in his ad, Angelos shamelessly declared that the Orioles Television Network would “offer a fair and appropriate fee to the Nationals in the many millions of dollars annually” to televise Washington’s games “throughout our [i.e., the Orioles’] territory.”

Congress must understand that the competitiveness of the team that will play its games within walking distance of the Capitol will be severely constrained if Angelos is able to cut a deal with Selig to pocket a large chunk of Washington-area television-rights fees. Selig should be made to understand that baseball’s franchise-relocation antitrust exemption, which no other major sports league enjoys, will be jeopardized if he stabs the Nationals — and the national capital — in the back before opening day.

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