WASHINGTON – Members of a House committee on Friday urged Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and Comcast to settle their differences and reach an agreement that would allow the remainder of the Washington Nationals baseball season to be shown locally on Comcast’s cable network.
“I am disappointed that the sophisticated businessmen involved in this dispute have failed to strike a deal,” Representative Tom Davis, R-Va., told a hearing of his House Government Reform Committee. “There should be enough money and good sense to make a deal work for everyone.”
The meeting was aimed at ending the dispute over rights to televize Nationals games by the area’s largest cable television provider. Those rights are controlled by Angelos, majority owner of Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, or MASN.
This year Comcast customers will only be able to watch 39 of the 162 scheduled Nationals games because Comcast refuses to pay the amount MASN demands to show the games. Other smaller cable providers in the region, Cox Communications, RCN, DirecTV, Charter Communications and Verizon FiOS, have paid the same price offered to Comcast to air the games.
Committee members said they understood the tremendous financial implications any long-term agreement would have and urged Comcast and MASN to hammer out a short-term deal so the rest of the Nationals season, which began April 3, could be aired locally.
Davis said the only ones hurt by the dispute are the fans.
Other committee members questioned Major League Baseball’s decision to allow the owner of one team to own the television rights of a competing team.
Angelos told the committee he wanted an agreement, and asked for the committee’s help in reaching one. He said he has repeatedly offered to sit down and make a deal with Comcast.
Comcast has asked Major League Baseball to take the television rights away from Angelos, citing a conflict of interest. Executive Vice President David Cohen said Angelos has always opposed having a team in Washington, and his MASN charges an exorbitant amount for a network that only provides coverage of Nationals games.
That will change at the end of this year, when MASN will have the rights to a majority of Orioles games. Unless MASN and Comcast reach an agreement for the Orioles games, or a lawsuit filed by Comcast against MASN succeeds, a majority Orioles games will not be available to the 4.7 million Comcast SportsNet subscribers in the mid-Atlantic, including Maryland.
Gary McCollum, vice president of Cox Communications, told the committee if MASN is able to charge what he called “monopolistic rates,” Angelos wins. And if cable companies choose not to pay those rates and Nationals fans are unable to see their team play, the Orioles win.
“So what is MASN’s incentive to moderate its behavior,” McCollum asked. “None.”
The committee member from the Baltimore area, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, summarized the conflict, saying fans just want to be able to watch their team on television. “Nats fans don’t care who’s right, who’s wrong or who’s paying,” Ruppersberger said.