MASN weighs on Nationals, but there may be hope

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Here are a few things that didn’t seem likely in the summer of 2006, when the Lerner family officially took ownership of the Washington Nationals: The team would win the first of four division titles in six years; the Lerner family would one day consider selling a franchise that family patriarch Ted has spent half his life pursuing; and 16 years later, that franchise would still be in a dispute with the neighboring Baltimore Orioles over MASN’s rights fee.

Rank them in terms of improbability. Difficult choice. But that last element weighs on the franchise in a way that remains crippling. That’s on the mind because the Lerners are exploring a possible sale, and the instinctive impulse is that MASN’s entanglement with the Orioles is a potential problem. It’s also a priority, as MASN broadcasters are an outlier in baseball by not going to any games on the road — a decision that reeks of financial limitations, for whatever reason.

It’s good for exactly no one. Seventeen years after the arrival of the Nationals, the regional sports network in charge of its broadcasts still does not provide the team with the income it expected. More than that, it sometimes comes across as a low-rent operation that cannot deliver the best product to its customers.

It’s a shame for Bob Carpenter, the longtime play-by-play man of 40 years in the business, and his new color analyst Kevin Frandsen, who replaced FP Santangelo this spring and is proving insightful and enthusiastic early on. . It’s a shame for all the people who have worked tirelessly over the years – in front of and behind the camera – to produce a passable product. For three hours a night, they almost always succeeded.

Some MLB broadcasters are still not back on the road. Viewers take notice.

Todd Webster, a spokesperson for MASN, issued a statement to my colleague Ben Strauss that read: “The global pandemic has forced us all to learn new lessons in innovation, ingenuity and resilience. MASN continues some of these lessons.

What nobility. In other words: “We are ready to save money at the expense of the quality of the broadcast. Sorry, viewers.

Signs of decay are everywhere, impossible to hide. There used to be a studio beyond the left-field stands at Nationals Park, the spot from which Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight — and later Dan Kolko and Bo Porter — aired before and after shows. match. It has been dismantled. Kolko — the popular dugout reporter and play-by-play backup man — was fired by MASN during the pandemic, like others, and is only on the air because the Nationals rehired him. He now hosts the pre- and post-game shows – solo – from a small corner of the Nats press box.

For a franchise that won the World Series just three seasons ago, the network that airs its games feels unnecessarily taped down. Everything is rooted in the chaos in which MASN was initially created. This story is relevant – and even funny – so let’s review. But also, eventually, come to this thought: What if, with the Lerners hanging a “For Sale” sign on the Nationals, MASN wasn’t so much an albatross as it was an opportunity?

First, a refresher on the origin story, because it’s important now and in the future. In late 2004, when Major League Baseball moved the Expos from Montreal to Washington, then-commissioner Bud Selig had to extend something of an olive branch to Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The Baltimore owner felt — sorry, feels — that the mere existence of the Nationals encroaches on his team’s turf, so that branch controlled the Washington franchise’s broadcast rights. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was hastily and controversially created.

It was a time, you may recall, when the Orioles had a storefront in downtown DC, selling orange and black gear; when the district’s 12-year-olds grew up with Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray.

But because Angelos had moved Orioles broadcasts from Comcast SportsNet’s Baltimore-Washington network, parent company Comcast banned distribution of Orioles and Nationals games on its cable systems, the dominant carrier in the region. So, the tone for MASN was set in those early days. Washington fans clamoring to familiarize themselves with their new team and its players – who were surprisingly in first place during the first half of the 2005 season – couldn’t get the majority of games on their televisions.

“Like one night I gave my live cell phone number and said, ‘If anyone’s looking anywhere, call this number,'” Mel Proctor, the first voice play, told me. -by-play from MASN in June. “And the only one who called was the truck’s tape operator.”

Broadcast-wise, it’s gotten better – much better. But there was not – and still is not – auxiliary programming around the 30 minutes before the match, the match itself and the 30 minutes after. “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” has always sounded more like community cable television than the kind of next-level roundtable discussion Washington and Baltimore deserve.

And here we are now: with the MLB Revenue Sharing Committee twice ruling that the Nationals should receive $100 million, mostly in back wages, per MASN. A New York appeals court upheld the award in 2020. MASN is, of course, on appeal. If I feel like it never ends, it’s because it never ends.

Orioles, still rebuilding, think they can win without spending

But that’s where there might be light at the end of a tunnel that for so long seemed to stretch deep into the Earth’s core: we know the Lerners are at least looking for new investors and , far more likely, a buyer for the Nationals. People around baseball suspect that the Angelos family is preparing to sell the Orioles. If that happens, do you know what happens to the Nationals broadcast rights? They return to Nationals.

Suddenly, what was a burden can become a boon. This is an extraordinarily exciting time for sports media rights. Yes, there remains lingering uncertainty here, but think about what a potential new Nationals owner who has experience running sports franchises and would like to expand his media empire – looking at you, Ted Leonsis – could do no only with the baseball club, but with the right to broadcast and broadcast its content. It’s not just games, which are three-hour advertisements for your product. It’s the programming around them – using internal media personalities to explore and develop the personalities of the team.

Go beyond. There could be ways to improve both in-stadium and couch experiences. Either way, there are opportunities that could excite a new owner with vision and innovation. For 17 years, the MASN was held back so much that it didn’t get much either.

The possibility of a Nationals sale is important to Nationals fans as it will help determine the direction of the roster rebuild currently underway. But also keep an eye out for the potential sale of O, Nats fans. Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen aren’t traveling for road games, and that’s a symptom of an illness that has plagued the Washington franchise for its entire existence. Yet there may well be a way out – with incredible potential not only for a new owner, but for the team’s fans, on the other side.

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