- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the local distributor of Washington Nationals telecasts, yesterday signed a multiyear carriage deal with RCN Cable, giving it access to about 185,000 homes in the District, parts of Montgomery County and the city of Falls Church.

The deal joins an existing agreement between the network and satellite TV provider DirecTV, and this season will provide MASN telecasts of 60 Nationals games on RCN’s channel 8.

The package of Nationals games on MASN to be seen in RCN homes supplements what already is available through over-the-air broadcasts on WDCA-TV (Channel 20). RCN’s distribution of MASN began with last night’s Nationals game against Milwaukee.

Not only does the deal give MASN its first distribution with a cable provider, but it gets the network on an expanded basic tier of service. In recent years, many cable companies, upset with rising costs for sports programming, have pushed sports networks to a dedicated tier requiring an additional subscription fee.

?We’re doing as many of these deals as we can and as fast as we can,? said Bob Whitelaw, MASN executive vice president and general manager. ?With RCN being a bit smaller than some of the other carriers in the region, they’re able to react faster, and there’s a real opportunity here for them.?

MASN executives also are near a distribution deal with Dish Network, the other major satellite provider.

RCN’s cable service previously was sold under the name of Starpower Communications, and the company sells bundled phone, cable and Internet service in several major U.S. metro areas.

?We were very eager to find a way to get an agreement done,? said Richard Ramlall, RCN senior vice president. ?This is something our customers have been asking for.?

The MASN-RCN Cable deal also arrives as the network’s corporate parent, the Baltimore Orioles, and Major League Baseball prepare a response to a lawsuit from Comcast SportsNet (CSN). The Bethesda regional sports network, which airs Orioles games, claims its contract with the team has been violated by the Orioles’ announced plans to move its distribution of local pay TV games to MASN no later than 2007. A formal response to the lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, is expected June 7.

While the lawsuit is ongoing, Comcast Corp., parent company of CSN and the dominant cable provider in the Mid-Atlantic, said it will not distribute MASN on any of its systems.

Meanwhile, prospective owners of the Nationals are preparing their initial bids for the team, as well as a minority stake in MASN currently held by MLB. After MLB commissioner Bud Selig said last week he still intends to select a new owner for the MLB-owned Nationals by midsummer despite the CSN lawsuit, nine bid groups for the club were notified they need to submit their initial bids by the end of the month.

Two figures have been requested: one on just the team and a second that also includes a 10 percent stake in MASN that ultimately grows to a 33 percent interest. In recent weeks, the prospective owners had expected a round of interviews with MLB to precede the formal bidding. But this first round of submissions, industry sources say, is designed primarily to weed out less serious suitors for the club.

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