Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has chosen sides in the legal dispute between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.
The two MLB franchises are locked in a courtroom battle over how the revenue from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will be divided up, and despite technically being employed by all thirty MLB ownership groups, Manfred recently gave his opinion on the matter in a Sports Business Daily article by Eric Fisher.
“It is important to bear in mind the fundamentals. The fundamentals are that the Orioles agreed the RSDC would set the rights fees for MASN and the Orioles every five years. The Orioles have engaged in a pattern of conduct designed to avoid that agreement being effectuated.”
By placing the blame for the legal dispute that has gone on for years now on the Orioles, Manfred has sided with the Nationals in this matter. As the physical embodiment of the league as a whole, that understandably didn’t sit well with Baltimore.
MASN, which is owned in principal by the Orioles, responded with a statement of its own arguing that Manfred’s statement is further proof of their position that they haven’t received a fair shake in the negotiations.
“Contrary to the Commissioner’s statement, a New York court actually found it was MLB’s pattern of conduct, including its pervasive conflicts of interest that incurably compromised the telecast rights fees arbitration and deprived MASN of any semblance of fairness in the proceedings. Moreover, MASN and the Orioles never agreed to allow the RSDC to set the telecast rights fees at its sole discretion. The 2005 Settlement agreement expressly required the RSDC to apply a specific methodology that had long been used by MLB to determine the Nationals’ rights fees. MLB and the RSDC refused to apply that contractual methodology in this arbitration. Regrettably, the Commissioner’s statement again makes it clear that MASN cannot receive a fair, objective and impartial hearing before MLB or the RSDC on these matters.”
While it’s true that the Commissioner’s comments could be perceived as strengthening the Orioles argument of a bias against them, it’s unclear how much they will improve MASN’s chances to ultimately win the dispute. The counsel for Washington could counter by stating that they are the comments of Manfred as an individual, not an official opinion of MLB as an entity.
Manfred’s comments could also be seen as the beginning of a tide of momentum against Baltimore’s case. The longer the dispute continues and the Nationals are void of media rights fees payments, the stronger the pressure will be for MASN and the Orioles to return to the negotiating table.
The further proceedings of this suit will determine which side that pressure ultimately benefits.