ORIOLES SALE COULD SETTLE THE MASN OWNERSHIP CLUSTER FUCK!

By Sally Fahey

The Angelos family is selling the Orioles to a group led by David Rubenstein, though that deal still needs to be approved by the league.

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to the media today about various topics including that sale. Matt Weyrich of The Baltimore Sun relayed some of those comments while also reporting that the league has the power to require the O’s to relinquish ownership of the Nationals’ television rights as part of approving the sale, though it’s not currently clear if they plan to do so.

“Change always produces opportunity,” Manfred said when asked about the situation. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

When the league was moving the Montreal Expos to Washington for the 2005 season, a compromise was reached with the Orioles. Since the league was moving a club into Baltimore’s territory, there was an agreement wherein the two clubs would co-own the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which would broadcast the games of both clubs. The Orioles owned 90% of the network at that time and the Nats just 10%, with the Nats gaining an extra 1% each year.

The two clubs have been battling each other over the revenues from that network ever since, reaching a settlement just last June for the 2012-2016 period. In December, Sports Business Journal reported that the two sides agreed on a deal for the 2017-2021 period.

In addition to those difficulties, the MASN dispute may have had an impact on the planned sale of the Nationals. The Lerner family announced in April of 2022 that they would explore the possibility of selling the club. Reporting from about this time a year ago suggested the MASN dispute was a key factor in the lack of progress towards a sale. Given those factors, MLB’s power to put a finger on the scale is a significant development.

Ted Leonsis, who already owns the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, and Washington Mystics, has been seen as a favorite to purchase the Nationals. He also owns Monumental Sports Network, which broadcasts those three clubs. Purchasing the Nationals and adding them to Monumental’s lineup would seemingly be a business decision that would make sense for him, but the fact that the Nats don’t own their own rights complicates things. Rubenstein’s group is also acquiring a controlling stake of MASN in purchasing the Orioles and it was reported last week that Rubenstein could sell the Orioles’ share of MASN to Leonsis.

There are many elements at play but it seems the league is motivated to approve the sale of the Orioles fairly quickly. “I’d like to get it done,” Manfred said. “I’ve never been comfortable with protracted approval processes. Once it’s public that there’s going to be a sale, I think it leaves both the departing group — [John Angelos is] not really departing but — the one who’s no longer going to be the control person and the one who’s about to become it, it leaves them both in an awkward spot. So, we just want to get it done as quickly as possible.” The pace of the process will depend upon the paperwork done by Angelos and Rubenstein, Weyrich reports, with a possibility for it to be completed as soon as six weeks from now.

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