- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

Comcast and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network yesterday traded offers in an attempt to resolve a dispute over rights to broadcast Washington Nationals games on the eve of testifying before a congressional committee on the issue.

Comcast, which has refused to offer MASN to its subscribers, said yesterday it would begin showing Nationals games immediately if MLB commissioner Bud Selig agreed to a new broadcast arrangement allowing networks to compete for exclusive rights for the team.

Under the proposal, an existing compensation agreement between Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos for the Nationals’ move to the region would be scrapped, and the Nationals then would be permitted to sell their television rights to the partner of their choice, including Comcast SportsNet. Comcast said if MLB agreed to this provision, it would begin carrying Nationals games immediately.

Comcast, with more than 1.3million subscribers, is the region’s largest cable provider, and its refusal to carry the network has left many fans unable to watch Nationals games. Comcast sued the Orioles last year on the grounds MLB should not have awarded MASN the rights to broadcast Orioles games without allowing Comcast SportsNet to match the offer.

MASN was created in 2004 as part of a package to compensate Angelos for the Nationals’ move to the region. The network is largely owned by the Orioles, with the Nationals owning a minority stake. The network shows only Nationals games now, but Orioles games will begin broadcasting on MASN in 2007 after the team’s current contract with Comcast SportsNet expires.

“This will ensure that the Nationals — like every team in MLB — is in control of its own local television rights and that the team receives a market share for those rights,” Comcast president Stephen Burke wrote to Selig.

Under Comcast’s new proposal, the cable company would pay the Nationals a rights fee equal to the one being paid by the Orioles to the Nationals. That fee is about $21 million.

Angelos, MLB president Bob Dupuy, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Comcast executives are scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Government Affairs today.

MASN said Comcast was simply holding out to gain an ownership stake in the network —a charge Comcast vehemently denied last night. MASN yesterday delivered its fifth offer letter to Comcast, with terms identical to those offered to distributors who now carry the network.

MASN is available on DirecTV, Cox Cable in Fairfax County and Fredericksburg, Verizon’s FiOS service, RCN Cable and Charter Cable.

Comcast’s proposal likely would require MLB to come up with a new way to compensate Angelos for the Nationals move to the region. MLB spokesman Rich Levin said Selig was aware of Comcast’s proposal but had not seen it and declined to comment.

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