Monday, July 03, 2006

Will I ever see more than one Nationals game a week?

I apparently wasn't the only one to notice something strange last weekend on the Channel 20 (via MASN) broadcast of the Nationals-Orioles games. On the score strip at the top of the screen, the Nationals were identified by the abbreviation "WSH," as usual. But the Orioles, instead of being identified as "BAL," like the typical Nats opponent, were identifed as "O's"--which is the way one might expect the Orioles' broadcast would identify them (and did), but not the way one would expect another team's broadcast to be signified on the score strip. But of course, the Nationals' broadcast right are actually owned by another team--the Orioles and their owner, Peter Angelos. And according to a story in The Washington Times Monday, the decision to identify the Orioles as O's--in other words, as the "home" team on another team's broadcast--was made by Peter Angelos. Yeah, I know, it doesn't really matter much in the general scheme of things, but it's still kind of amazing. (Bud Selig, are you paying attention? What am I saying? Of course not. Hopefully, Stan Kasten is, though.) Not only are the the broadcast rights owned by another team (technically it's a 90-10 split in favor of Angelos that will get closer to 50-50 as the years go by, but always give Angelos the majority), but he has to rub our faces in it too. And it makes me wonder what might be next. Angelos apparently drove popular Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller out of town a few years back because he was too critical of the team. Will Angelos run Nationals broadcaster Tom Paciorek out of town because he's too much of a homer for the Nationals?

To be fair, I don't actually blame Angelos for the impasse that has prevented me and more than a million others in in Montgomery County and D.C. from watching most of the Nationals games the past two seasons. That seems to me to primarily be Comcast's fault. They spent last year saying they weren't going to put the games on because Angelos violated their contract to televise Orioles games by keeping the rights himself starting in 2007 (yes, they kept Nats games off the air because they would be losing the rights to Orioles games two years later.) I didn't read the court documents and am not a lawyer, but considering that Comcast's lawsuit was thrown out of court at a summary judgement hearing (and not just once, but twice, if I'm remembering correctly), I presume they didn't have much of a case. Then this year, they said Angelos was charging them too much to carry the games. That may very well be true. After all, MASN has been in existence for 15 months and (since I can't watch it, I can't verify this for sure) apparently still carries nothing more than Nats games--no pre-game show, no post-game show, no highlights show, no show interviewing Nats players or Frank Robinson on a weekly basis. As you can see, Peter Angelos really cares about the Nats and the Nats fans. (Why do I think next year MASN will have a lot more Orioles' content than Nats'content?) Anyway, Comcast may have a point, that MASN's not worth the price Angelos is charging, but since all these other cable companies in the area (RCN, Cox, etc.) are paying for it, why is the deal good enough for those guys and not for Comcast? Why don't they make it a pay channel on Comcast for a couple bucks a month if they don't want to charge all their subscribers? How much is MASN charging anyway? Has Angelos been willing to negotiate on a price, or is Comcast just not bothering? Why hasn't Comcast made their case in newspaper ads like MASN has? And why isn't the Washington Post covering any of this in any real depth? (Yes, I'm a newspaper reporter, but I'm pretty sure I can't convince my boss this is a Jewish issue.) They did write an article a couple months ago about how Comcast was willing to broadcast the games if they were given the contract by MLB instead of MASN--that's nice of Comcast, but that's Fantasyland and hardly worth more than a sentence. The Nats have a better chance of winning the NL East this year than Comcast being awarded the contract.
The best information I gleaned about all this (that apparently Angelos was charging two bucks a subscriber, but it wasn't clear if he was willing to negotiate that price) was some Nats' fan's blogging of the congressional hearing called with Angelos and Comcast a couple months ago--and I salute Tom Davis for calling that hearing, but it doesn 't seem to have produced any progress. I suspect Comcast really wants to wait until the end of this season when they will have all the leverage on Angelos--other than the fact that he could charge more for ads, Angelos doesn't really care if the Nats are on TV. But he will care if his Orioles aren't on television. And with the Orioles going to MASN for all their games next year, he will have to make a deal with Comcast by April.

Of course, I've been way too generous toward Angelos in this post. While he may look good compared to Comcast, he's still evil incarnate. He kept baseball out of Washington for as long as he could and then squeezed as many concessions as he could out of Major League Baseball (and Bud and company just let him do it.) So to balance it out, here's an quick example of his amazing gall and dishonesty. On Mark Plotkin's radio show a couple months ago, he was asked by a caller why only 32 Nats' games were being shown on over-the-air television (Channel 20) this year, as opposed to about 70 last year. He said he made that decision because he wanted to bring the Nats' number of over-the-air games in line with the standard number of over-the-air games shown by other teams. OK, sounds reasonable. So I checked how many Orioles games are being shown in Baltimore this year. That number is 64. Enought said.


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