The Washington Nationals have been pushing hard to host the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star game. And as of the All-Star game in July in Minneapolis, it looked as if it was going to happen.
“For a host of reasons, I would not be surprised if Washington was selected,” one high-ranking baseball official said.
Washington’s competition for the 2017 games is one of the cities lobbying to host the 2016 All-Star game — Baltimore.
If Major League Baseball intended on awarding Washington the 2017 All-Star game, it is not likely going to have the game — and all the festivities that come with it, fan and corporate — take place just up the road in Baltimore the year before.
Also working against Baltimore — the NAACP is considering holding its national convention in Baltimore in July 2016, and those dates could conflict with the All-Star game.
But what could be the game at risk at winding up in either city is the dispute between the Nationals and the Orioles over the revenue from MASN and their partnership in the regional sports television network.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is not pleased with either side in this fight over MASN revenue and how it has wound up in court. He is supposed to make a decision on both All-Star games before he steps down at the end of this year, and it not going to be in the mood to give either Peter Angelos or the Lerner family this prize plum if both of them are breaking baseball’s unwritten rule — never air your dirty laundry in court.
MASN was created by baseball when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005 as a payoff to Angelos for not fighting the move in court. Angelos’ regional network would broadcast Nationals games, and Angelos would reap large majority of the profits.
That so-called “partnership” consisted of the Orioles owning 90 percent of the network and the Nationals 10 percent from the start, with the Nationals’ piece of the network rising by one percent a year until it reaches a cap of 33 percent. The rights fees are reopened every five years to come up with a new revenue figure based on the market value of rights fees.
That market value has changed dramatically since the deal was reached. The Baltimore Sun reported that the last known figure Washington received from MASN for its games was $29 million in 2011, according to court documents. Those documents reveal that when it came time to ask for a reset this time around, the Nationals asked for $118 million — nearly four times the last reported annual MASN cut they received.
If this seems a little excessive, that shouldn’t surprise anymore. These are the Lerners we are talking about here — the owners who once reportedly asked the District about putting a dome on top of Nationals Park, the 100 percent public-funded ballpark they were handed the keys to when it opened in 2008.
That’s what makes this MASN dispute such a nightmare for Selig — two heavyweights doing battle. The Lerners won’t flinch about going to war in court, and won’t bat an eye about seemingly outrageous demands. And Angelos, as we know, has everything he owns — including the Orioles — because he is a litigator.
The fight illustrates the challenge facing baseball with this MASN deal and the owners involved. Both the Lerners and Angelos are used to winning these fights. They didn’t get where they are through the art of compromise.
Selig decided to name a three-member panel of fellow owners — their peers — to come to a Solomon-like decision. The Sun reported that court documents show that the amount they decided to award the Nationals was “substantially less” than the $118 million the club wanted.
But the Orioles — MASN, for all intents and purposes — still weren’t happy with the amount the Nationals received. They filed a successful restraining order stopping baseball from forcing MASN to agree to it, instead seeking a decision in a court of law.
It’s difficult to believe after all this, Selig is going to turn around and reward the Orioles with an All-Star game. And he may not be particularly pleased with the Nationals’ greedy appetite in this process, either.
Baseball owners have a meeting scheduled in Baltimore this week. That ought to be fun.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.