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April 5, 2005

With baseballís blackouts, more is less

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos dragged out his media rights battle with baseball and the Washington Nationals down to the last week before Opening Day. And while he may have emerged as a winner with a sweet TV revenue deal, any fan just wanting to watch Nationals baseball this year is a big loser.

So the Orioles and Nationals took their TV rights negotiations down to the wire, and as a result are giving a raw deal to anyone in the D.C. area looking for adequate television coverage of the area's newest team.

As it stands now, the Nats will only have 76 games on television this season, all over-the-air on UPN-20 or Fox-5, including yesterday's Opening Day game at Philadelphia. Since their television fate was in limbo up until a week ago, they were unable to secure a cable home for the rest of their games. Former Bullets and Orioles announcer Mel Proctor won the play-by-play job this weekend, and Ron Darling was inked to be the color commentator this morning.

In some respect, Angelos was right; with the Nats in town, he loses financial viability in D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, all of which used to be in his market. Even with the 11th Hour deal that the Orioles signed with PAX-66 to broadcast 65 Orioles games this year, gone are potentially lucrative affiliates in Roanoke, Norfolk, Richmond and Raleigh-Durham.

But what irks me is what upset me about the NHL Labor Talks; the lack of any sense of urgency on the part of the Orioles to hammer out a compensation deal with Major League Baseball. Because Angelos waited so long to get a deal in place, the potentially complicated negotiations to put the newly formed Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on cable were unable to make headway before Opening Day this afternoon.

So, as a result, you'll actually be able to see the Atlanta Braves on TBS more often than the Nationals in 2005.

What's even more maddening is the blackout restrictions that will keep D.C. baseball fans from seeing these teams on the satellite/digital cable package, "MLB Extra Innings."

We bought it this yearóexcuse meómy wonderful father shelled out $150for the package that will finally let me see all those Kansas City-Toronto tilts I've wanted to see.

And if you're thinking that Extra Innings will be the way you can see all those Nationals games not on regular television, then think again. Because we are in their regional television market, any Nats game, whether its on regular TV or not, will be blacked out on the satellite as well.

Essentially, a guy with Extra Innings in Barrow, Alaska can watch more Nationals games this year than I can.

We are all, sadly, at the mercy of the teams and the cable companies. Until they wake up and put the team on television 150 times like they did for the Orioles and every other big league team in their local market, we the fans are out of luck.

So even though, geographically, Major League Baseball is closer than ever, in reality, we've never been more shut out of coverage.

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  • Christopher Mihans (View Email) on April 29, 2005 at 4:34 PM
    Dear sir,
    I could not agree with you more. I have been purchasing the MLB Extra Innings for 3 years. I did this primarily to see the NY Mets. As a fan from North Carolina it was very difficult to see them otherwize. Now, I can understand, somewhat, blackouts so that the stands get filled, this type of blackout makes no sense. I can also understand blacking out a game in Baltimore or Washington, somewhat, but games played elsewhere? What sense does that make?
    Thanks for allowing me to vent,
    Christopher Mihans
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