Orioles' season somehow gets worse as court rules they owe nearly $100 million to Nationals

Jack Baer

I don’t need to tell you the Baltimore Orioles have had an absurdly awful season this year.

The team’s record is 41-86. They just set an MLB record in homers allowed in a season and there’s still a month left to go. Their lone All-Star was a 26-year-old rookie with a 3.75 ERA and 4.51 FIP. Their highest-paid player might be the worst player in MLB, and had to be restrained from their manager earlier this month.

All of those are brush strokes in a masterpiece of failure, but there have been awful teams before. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The 1962 New York Mets. The 2003 Detroit Tigers. The 2018 Baltimore Orioles. However, what those teams never did was owe $100 million in rights fees to a bitter rival.

In that respect, the 2019 Orioles can be considered truly groundbreaking.

Court ruling costs Orioles big against Nationals

A New York Supreme Court judge has confirmed an MLB arbitration hearing that orderd the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is jointly owned by the Orioles and Washington Nationals, to pay the Nationals nearly $100 million in additional rights fees, according to Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness.

MASN had originally paid the Nationals $197.5 million for the 2012-16 television rights, a sum the majority owner Orioles proposed. A ruling by MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee decided the Nationals were instead owed $296.8 million, a figure that was confirmed by the court.

Not only do MASN and the Orioles owe that massive sum of money for the Nationals’ rights, they also reportedly owe interest on the extra rights fees.

The Orioles season was going bad enough without the courts stepping in. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

What’s behind the Orioles-Nationals MASN ruling?

The origin of the Orioles’ and Nationals’ dispute over MASN goes back to 2005, when the Nationals came to DC from Montreal against the protests of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The Orioles were unhappy that the lucrative DC media market was being taken away from them.

MLB eventually struck a deal with the Orioles that resulted in the creation of MASN, a television network that would hold both teams’ television rights. The Orioles were given an initial 90 percent controlling interest in the network, with the Nats’ stake slowly increasing to a 67-33 split.

The Nationals were designated a relatively low $20 million rights fee in 2005 and 2006 that would incrementally increase up to $30 million in 2011. At that point, the Nationals and Orioles were supposed to negotiate a new price based on the Nationals’ value.

The two teams never came to an agreement and went before the RSDC, which ruled in 2014 the Nationals were owed $59 million per year for their rights between 2012 and 2016. The low-revenue Orioles balked at that price, and the matter has bounced between courts and arbitration panels ever since.

Until Thursday, when the court definitively upheld a later RSDC ruling that stated the Nationals were owed nearly $100 million total in additional rights fees.

The Nationals aren’t actually getting $100 million

Before the Nationals’ front office adds $100 million to its latest offer to Anthony Rendon, it’s worth noting there is some financial reworking to be done.

Per the Baltimore Sun, MASN will be restating its financial results for 2012-16, reducing its profits to pay the higher fees. As those fees go up, the Nationals’ profits from their smaller ownership stake go down. Of course, the Orioles’ profits from their larger stake also go down.

The adjustments are reportedly expected to result in a payment between $60 million and $70 million.

That’s still a rough time for the Orioles, and not even drafting Adley Rutschman will fix it.

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