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Jim Williams: Deadline approaches in TV rights dispute

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Orioles,Jim Williams

Major League Baseball had set a July 1 deadline to resolve the dispute between the Washington Nationals and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network over the value of the team's television rights deal. The two sides are about $70 million apart in their evaluations of what the Nationals' television rights are worth, according to the Sports Business Journal.

A special committee made up of ownership representatives from the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays and chaired by MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred heard testimony from both sides back in April, SBJ reported.

The Nationals value their TV rights at around $100 million a year based on recent deals done in Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston, where the teams received long-term deals worth more than a billion dollars each. Washington, a top-10 media market, felt its rights request was in line with the going rate.

MASN countered that low TV ratings and a weak fan base mean the bump should be from $29 million to $35 million a year. MASN's argument -- while sound from a business point of view -- is flying in the face of a market that is giving out high rights fees regardless of ratings.

Of course, the Nationals' fan base and ratings are on the rise as the team continues to be a contender in the National League East. There is no reason to think that a contending Nationals team won't see continued success at the gate and on TV.

As for the low ratings argument, the Los Angeles Angels actually had lower ratings than the Nationals if you factor in the size of the TV market. Los Angeles is the nation's second-largest market, while Washington is the eighth. The Angels' new deal with Fox Sports West was for 20 years and $3 billion.

So what has delayed Major League Baseball's decision?

A MASN victory would be bad business for other teams looking to cash in on the wave of higher rights fees. MLB also is mindful that the Nationals and MASN could go to court if they feel the committee's decision is unfair.

The truth is that if the Nationals' rights were open for bidding -- which they aren't -- Comcast probably would sign them to a long-term deal at or near the $100 million a year range. So a big payday for Washington is coming soon.

Because of a clause in the MASN contract that gives the Orioles the same rights fees as the Nationals, the future of the network is at stake. According to multiple industry sources, MASN can't afford to pay both teams more than $50 million a year.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Check out his blog, Watch this!, on washingtonexaminer.com.

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