You’re probably confused about the MASN court decision, which is totally fine. If I wasn’t a lawyer, and I hadn’t read the decision myself, I’d be confused too. The reporting on the MASN issue has been particularly sparse. Reporters who cover baseball are not business reporters, nor are they lawyers (most of the reporting I’ve seen looks more like spin, leaked from one of the parties). To save you time, here’s my very brief analysis of today’s decision in non-legal terms so anyone can understand it.
The MASN contract requires the network (majority owned by the Orioles) to pay the Nationals the right to broadcast their games. Every five years, the parties renegotiate these fees and go to arbitration if they don’t agree, which is exactly what happened here. The arbitration panel ruledin 2014, attempting to forge a compromise between the Nats and the O’s. The O’s didn’t want a compromise, they wanted to win, so they appealed the arbitration decision in court.
The Court Case
To win, the Orioles had to prove there was something wrong with the arbitration. Like most lawyers do, the attorneys representing the O’s threw as much as they could against the wall, hoping something would stick. Among other things, they argued: fraud on the part of MLB when drafting the MASN contract, collusion between MLB and the Nats during the arbitration process, a conflict of interest for the arbitration panel members, and a conflict of interest for the attorneys representing the Nationals. In short, the O’s were hoping to get the arbitration award thrown out, so they could get another hearing and an award that required MASN to pay the Nats less money.
The Orioles won. The arbitration award was thrown out. However, the court rejected most of their arguments. The only argument they agreed with: there was a conflict of interest for the attorneys representing the Nationals.
It’s a hollow victory for the Orioles. The arbitration award is thrown out, but on relatively narrow grounds. If there’s no appeal, or if this decision is upheld on appeal, there will still be another arbitration hearing, this time without the conflict of interest. The Nationals might get an even bigger award next time. TV rights fees have only risen since the last hearing. The biggest impact for the Nats, however, is in the short term. The have more uncertainty about their TV rights, and they’ll continue to wait for more TV money. This isn’t good news for Nats fans, but today’s “win” isn’t exactly a windfall for the Orioles either. The main battle is still to be fought. Either side could win.