The Nationals secured a key legal victory in their long-running TV rights fees battle with the jointly owned and Orioles-controlled Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), as Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun was among those to report. The decision upholds an arbitration award in the Nationals’ favor, which was issued earlier this year.
This does not represent a final victory for the Nationals, as the Orioles (through MASN) will still be able to appeal on various issues. But there may now be an end in sight for the D.C. club, which lost at the trial-court stage when the O’s challenged the original arbitration decision in late 2015. That decision kicked off the complicated, multi-round process that is still unfolding.
The Nationals have cured the conflict-of-interest issue — relating to legal representation — that led to the initial ruling. This time, the O’s presented a theory that MLB could not serve as the arbitration forum because it had an interest in the outcome due to loans it made to the Nationals.
If the Baltimore legal team isn’t able to pull off another upset win at the appellate level, the team will ultimately owe a hefty bill to its southern neighbors. As discussed at the time of the arbitration panel’s decision, the expectation is that the Nationals will be due something in range of $60MM to $70MM once all the accounting is sorted out. The new ruling also requires the Orioles to pony up interest on the obligations — one of the matters that will surely be addressed on appeal.
There are still plenty of loose ends. As noted, there will be a direct appeal on several issues. The Orioles have also initiated a separate arbitration proceeding regarding the team’s decision not to distribute certain funds to the Nationals during the pendency of the initial dispute. And since the rights fees re-set occurs every five years, this particular litigation/arbitration covers the rights fees for only the 2012-16 seasons … meaning there’s an ongoing need to work out the numbers for the ensuing five-year periods.